The Rev. Daniel Gutierrez
A few days past, my son and I wandered into a mega bookstore and I was saddened when I once again encountered yet another example of America in the 21st Century. This sadness was not due to the rudeness of hurried holiday shoppers, or a seeming civic duty to spend money in order to save our national economy.
It was not moral outrage of half nude models on calendars or encounters with the photographic displays of a glowering Christopher Hitchens declaring that God is a myth or a smirking Bill Maher marketing religion as evil.
No, the sadness was the realization that in a book store, filled with lifestyle advice and entertainment solutions, literature and poetry were relegated to three small aisles near the bathroom.
Was I being naïve in this season of hope? Why should I be surprised? Our world requires state-of-the art graphics in children’s games, televisions must be high definition, and the internet must be sonic speed. Who needs patience when one can satisfy every desire instantaneously? Who needs poetry when you have 500 television channels? Who needs the mystery of a word, when a computer can return a synopsis?
Yet, we are not fully complete by technology. Somewhere deep in the recesses of our souls we have an inherent need for meaning. And we need words because they have the ability to give our lives meaning. Words have life, they create, and they tear apart. Words can either soothe or create chaos.
Words can change hearts. Who has not been entranced by Romeo’s - "It is the east, and Juliet is the sun?" Many a student has encountered beauty through a Dickinson poem, or patriotism in - “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Many Americans were moved to enter into the political process when they heard a future President proclaim: “there are no red states or blue states, only the United States.”
Simple words, yet they have great power. In the Old Testament, once Isaac had been deceived into blessing Jacob instead of Esau, nothing he could do could take the word of blessing back again. The word had gone out, begun to act, and nothing could stop it.
Many of us have felt the brutal impact of words, when we are told such things as: you are stupid, get away from me, I don’t love you anymore, or I am leaving you. In much the same way, we experience overwhelming joy with: you are special, I miss you, I am proud of you, or I love you.
Simple words used to express meaning. Therefore, it is not surprising that our relationship with the Lord is marked by words: we pray, plead, scream or just engage in an ongoing conversation. Our creation was initiated with a dream in God’s mind that takes on physical reality when God speaks four creative words: “Let there be light.”
The Gospel passage over the past 2 weeks, contain what I believe are the most beautiful words ever written. For within them, they describe the greatest gift ever given to this world – Jesus. An Angel of the Lord asks a young girl if she is willing to change the course of mankind forever. She says Yes. Simple words.
An angel of God announces to lowly shepherds that the salvation of the world is being born in their midst. Joyous words accompanied by a heavenly host of Angels that will sing them for all eternity.
Today, we encounter18 versus that express the most profound love ever written or spoken: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory,”
Simple verse that will forever connect the divine and human. These words speak of the love God has for each one of us. However, the beauty of these words lies not in their prose; it is found in their significance. Their meaning realized in the birth of Christ.
These 305 words in the first chapter of John forever change our relationship with the divine. Because now God becomes real, and within this reality is both the beauty and scandal of the incarnation.
Our relationship with the Lord is no longer translated through prophets, merely written in stone, or described from a mountaintop. Heaven touched the earth and, as a result, earth can know heaven. The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us. God is with us and it now becomes our choice to accept it.
In sending Christ, God places a tremendous amount of faith in each one of us. In meeting us where we are, to enter into our world and assume our humanity, the message is clear - I believe in you even if there is a chance you do not believe in me. A tremendous amount of trust given to us, and thus comes the dilemma.
This concept is difficult in the age of immediate results and sure explanations. We cannot explain it away or ignore it. From the birth of Christ forward, the Lord makes our interaction with the Divine genuine, human, and physical. God takes away all those secret places and excuses. There is no place to hide.
As much as we try, we cannot hit the back button, ask for another selection or get different results. We must make the choice to accept God and all the responsibility that comes with it. However, it is hard to do. We have a history of running, ignoring or even not trying.
We want heaven without the reality of the earth; the eternal without the present, the reward without the work. However, if the Word is to be present and shared, we must live the life, make the choices, and travel the road. As most of us know, being in the present can be mundane, difficult, slow reading. It also includes others.
Because God and God’s grace is not always instantaneous, it is found in our daily routines and interactions with one another. God came down and became human. God lived in relation with his creation, and yet his creation often finds it difficult to do the same.
Our relationships with God and one another now becomes a dialogue instead of a monologue. God initiated the conversation; we must engage and continue it.
Christmas makes God is visible in Jesus. In Jesus we understand the depth of the Lord’s love for us. Through Jesus we realize that God does not hate us, reject us, nor abandon us. We are finally able to hold out our arms and be lost in God’s loving wonder and embrace.
Through Christ, we have access to God; In Christ we learn about love, we learn how God would live if he lived among us. We know that God would welcome, heal, include. He would lovingly hold in divine arms everyone encountered. Through the example of Christ, who touched the sick and healed them.
He fed the hungry, welcomed the outcasts back into society, played with children, he made people smile. He laughed, he cried, he prayed. He told us to love his father and love one another. Through Christ we become reflections of our creator, We come home.
Earlier, I bemoaned the loss of the written word, and felt compelled to explain the incarnation through just one word. The only word possible is love. The Word becoming flesh is the ultimate example.
It conveys that because of Jesus Christ, God not only speaks to us, but goes searching for us – A Shepherd calling out to his sheep. Our God, moved by a loving heart, and the desire for us to come back.
Maybe we do get it on a certain level. Maybe that is why there is a sense of hope, joy and love at Christmas. Somewhere deep inside we long to respond to that voice, and come back running. Christmas somehow makes that longing a bit stronger.
In the song O Little Town of Bethlehem, I am struck by the third verse. It goes: How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.
Celebrate the Word becoming Flesh. For we are reminded that we are not left alone in the great expanse of the cosmos. We are neither cruelly condemned to mere survival of the fittest nor designated to an inglorious fate that ends abruptly with death.
There is far too much promise in life for that. No, we are children of a loving God, made in that image. We were created or a greater purpose and destiny - eternal love and life with a loving God. We are created to return home.
Through the small child in the stable, God is lovingly taking your face in his hands, and gently saying these words – You are mine, I know what you are going through and I will never leave you, I will always love you. Simple words that sing through all eternity.