Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Birth of the Savior

This is the sermon I offered at the 8:00 pm Christmas Eve service at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, Unitarian Universalist.  You can listen to it if you prefer.

Earlier this week I came across a passage that seemed very apropos for tonight.  It’s from the writings of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, and it’s his take on the traditional Christian teaching that God came into the world, became incarnate in a human being, at the birth so very long ago of Jesus of Nazareth, known in his day as Yeshua ben Miriam:

"Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it – because he is out of place in it, and yet must be in it – his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected because they are regarded as weak; and with those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, and are tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst."

Last night many of us attended a rally downtown at the Free Speech Wall.  An interfaith and multi-cultural community was created there, even if only momentarily.  Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists and Humanists, and even we Unitarian Universalists gathered there, bearing a spectrum of skin tones, life experiences, traditions, and practices.  Yet we came together.  We came together to declare to the world that we are … no matter how many things there are that might divide us … that we are united in our belief that each of us is worthy of respect and all of us are deserving of dignity and freedom.

This is not the message we’re hearing too much on the news these days. From politicians seeking the highest office in our country, to seemingly average women and men, we are hearing the call not of unity but of divisiveness.  We are being told that there are some people who are different, not the same as, not as good as, not as safe as, not as deserving as.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the people saying this tend to be White and that the ones they’re talking about tend to be people of color.

The people who are speaking with the voices of fear and hatred tend also to call themselves Christians, yet Father Merton reminds us that it is they who have gotten it wrong.  If the Christ is anywhere it is particularly and specifically with the very people these other people denounce – “those who do not belong, who are rejected ... who are discredited … denied the status of persons … for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst.”

This is not a very upbeat reflection for Christmas Eve, is it?  And I’ll admit that it’s an awfully Christian one for a Unitarian Universalist preacher to be preaching.  But to those of you for whom this is not your regular religious language I say, “Fear not, for I bring you tidings of great joy.”  And to those who fear that this is not the happy and hopeful sermon they were expecting I say, “I do have good news to share tonight.”

For this is a season of miracles, or so we’re told. 

The sun, which has been getting more and more absent from the day has begun to make its return.  And so, we can have faith that good will and common sense, seemingly so long absent, will rise again. 

The lamp oil in the temple, enough for just one night, incredibly lasts for eight, allowing a fresh supply of oil to be prepared.  And when we feel that we just can’t make it any more in the face of all the harm and hurt in the world … well … we can believe that we will persevere for as long as needed. 

And to an oppressed people in a backwater country a child is born who brings with him a rebirth of hope and love.  And, as we’ll say and sing in a moment, each night a child is born – anywhere in this heartbreakingly brokenhearted world – is a holy night and a night of hope.  As Carl Sandburg put it, every time a child is born it’s a sign that God still hasn’t given up on the world.

As Unitarian Universalists we affirm the value of every human life, of every animal life, of every life on this planet, and even the non-living parts of our fragile little home.  Yet we cannot let the universality of that blind us to the need for specific and particular reminders.  And so we join with those who say to a country, and to a world, which seems to have forgotten, or perhaps has never fully known, that black lives matter.  And we reach out in our community to find others who share the conviction that Muslim lives matter.  And we strive through the way we are as a congregation to demonstrate that the lives of people with mental illnesses matter.  We have long shown our assertion that the lives of gays and lesbians matter, and we’re learning how to ever more clearly declare that the lives of bisexual and transgender persons matter.

I could keep going.  But maybe the most radical thing we say, maybe the hardest of them all to hear, is that your life matters.  Whoever you are, your life matters.  My life matters.  We matter – you and I – and we matter not despite our flaws and our failings but because it is those very flaws and failings, combined with our strengths and gifts, that make us who we are.  Whole people.  Real people.  We matter, you and I.    In the unfathomable hugeness of this universe, you matter.  That’s good news, isn’t it?

There’s a quote that’s been going around Facebook in recent days:  “Each of us is an innkeeper who decides if there’s room.”  When I reposted it on my wall a friend wrote, “we're also, as we've been told, if we're willing, the manger...”  We’re also, God help us, each and every one of us, that little baby.

We matter, you and I, because if there’s going to be any love in this world, it’s going to have to come from us.  If there is going to be any healing, we’ll have to nurture it.  If there’s going to be freedom, we’re the ones who are going to have to work for it.  And if there’s going to be any real change, we will have to make it.  The story of the birth of a savior is really the story of our births as saviors. 

This season, however we understand it and however we celebrate it, it is my prayer that we will feel birthed within us love, truth, light, and hope; that they will come to dwell in our lives; and that they will flow forth from us into this world so that all might feel at home here and see the world not at its worst but at its best.

Pax tecum,


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