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God's Love Made Real

Rev. Daniel A. Smith
Thu, Dec 24

Will you pray with me, please? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable to you, O God our Rock and our Redeemer.

Check this out and see if you can guess what it is:

This night is the night that he, so pure
Will suffuse the worlds with radiant light!
This night, earth becomes a Paradise,

This night God shows mercy to the world.

This night those with heart are filled with joy,

This night gives the lovers a new life.


Beautiful, right? It’s a nativity poem, to be sure. It just so happens that these 15th century words by the poet Suleyman Chelebi celebrate the nativity or birth of the Prophet Muhammad. It also just so happens, that tonight is the first time in 457 years that our two traditions of nativity celebration coincide. Talk about interfaith and prophetic solidarity! I checked it out this week with my brother Yusufi who some of you know! Though he told me the mosque in Boston won’t be hosting their celebration until early January, today is the day that the Muslim lunar and liturgical calendar designates. Its called Mahwid and it's a time in which peace and blessings are invoked upon the Prophet.

Now, I’m not one for superstition, but come on, given the abhorrent rhetoric of otherness that is dividing our communities and world right now, given how much vitriolic and violent energy is being aimed towards Muslims these days, it makes you wonder. It makes me wonder whether this exquisite coincidence, that would align our two world religions for the first time in nearly five centuries, is divine humor or wisdom or message at work. The irony for us is that many Christians, in this country especially, would be scandalized to hear so much as a mention of Muhammad or Islam in church on Christmas Eve. And yet, what we celebrate, this night of all nights, is that God’s love, made known through Jesus, is a love that seeks to break down division, that embraces the “other”, that resists the ways of our world that would say there is no room for your kind here!

Indeed, there is a profound paradox that Christians recognize tonight, and that’s captured in our Christmas scriptures. At Christmas, God’s universal love and mercy becomes particular! Eternity chooses a moment in time! Eternity breaks through the veil on this night! We’ll hear this in our next reading from John… “In the beginning was the Word, and Word was with God and Word was God…” And, then, we hear this… “that the Word became flesh and came to dwell among us.” It’s like a reverse big bang – all the power, mystery, wisdom, beauty and love that that shaped our universe, is drawn back in for a moment, and finds its form in a human body that walks and talks and show us the Creator’s love and acceptance for all humanity, despite our limits, despite our failures, and in all of our diversity! No wonder the angels sing tonight! For what a shining glory to behold! What a reason for rejoicing!

Can you see how it works? On the one hand, Christmas invites us to ponder in our hearts the cosmic majesty and infinite mystery of God’s being, as far away as that distant star of wonder that we sing about! On the other hand, as the story goes, Christmas shows up in the most peculiar, finite, particular, intimate and incarnate of ways – a baby taking shelter in a barn. What fascinates me is the audacious particularity of the incarnation and of the Christmas message that we proclaim.

Each of the world religions have their own ways of embodying this beautiful tension, between the particular and the universal, between time and eternity, between earth and heaven, between the world as it is and the world as it should be. Christmas is the way that God’s love is made known for us, it’s what gives God’s love a human face, and a human story to which we can relate. It’s through the human eyes of Jesus that we see ourselves as forgiven, loved and free, and that we learn not to fear but to welcome strangers and outcasts. It’s through his human hands and his healing touch, his mixing of dirt and spit that heals the blind Its in footpaths of Jesus, whether to the mountains for rest or to the margins for ministry, that we find our way. Can you see how it’s about the embodied particulars? Can you see how, as a colleague of mine loves to say, “God is in the details”?

What’s more, tonight, we celebrate that God’s universal love came down not just to any human body, but to an infant’s body that was born in an animal stable. God chooses the most vulnerable of human forms – a baby, one that is born poor and unsheltered, a migrant living under a brutal regime. God models for us an exquisite vulnerability here. God is exposed in every way! This exposure teaches us that power, whether human or divine, should never be exploited, that one should never seek to trump or trample another, because ultimately, we are all fragile, vulnerable, finite creatures in need of love and touch and warmth and affection. God chooses the most humble of entrances, and these particulars matter! They matter because they underscore God’s special concern for the least of these, the most marginalized, the most “other-ed” among us! They matter because they model intimate connection out of shared vulnerability. And isn’t that part of every human desire? That intimacy of recognition, to see and be seen, to know and to be known, to love and to be loved.

Guys who look a lot like me, we are terrified of this kind of vulnerability, we can’t stand this kind of intimacy. Far too many of us are afraid of the unknown within us and around us. We can’t wait to build walls, to nestle into our man-caves, to be left alone with our devices! Who’s with me here? Don’t leave me hanging! Well, Christmas always comes in places without walls, to hands that are empty, to hearts that are open, vulnerable and exposed! And, somehow, on Christmas Eve, the real miracle is that even the most shut down among us can get this. We come here year after year, and no matter what kind of week or year it has been, whether we are in the mood or not, our hearts cannot but be open, tender, waiting and wanting. We may think it's the cute kids and candlelight. But it’s deeper than that. It’s in the story itself, that year after year, sinks into our being.

This year, of all years, may we all hear this good news that is laid bare before us. May we take in and dwell in this good news and great joy! This year, of all years, may our ears be especially attuned to the angel’s words: Fear not! And may the walls of every heart come down! Tonight, we gather, needful as ever of more vulnerable and more intimate connections, with those both within and beyond our walls! Don’t let yourselves keep a distance! Don’t let your minds withdraw and dismiss the mystery with intellectual abstraction! Don’t let your heart pull back into isolating individualism. Indeed, there’s a reason why the proclamation was shared with the angels (plural), and the shepherds (plural) and the wise men three! The news was too good to be heard alone. It took a village, a community to receive it and then to share it, fearlessly, audaciously! Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere! Go tell it, even better, go live it. The good news is that tonight, this night, God’s love is made as real as our flesh, and it wants and needs to be held! We are invited to come close, to receive it and share it with ourselves and then with the world! For the Christ child too, “this night is the night that he, so pure, will suffuse the world with radiant light, and for us too, “those with hearts are filled with joy.” For unto us is born a Savior, it’s the one who can show us the way.

Amen.

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