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Dec 24, 2021

Blessing Comes Alive

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Series: December 2021


Today's Sermon


"Blessing Comes Alive"


Last year, I stood alone in this sanctuary and preached to a camera.  Shall we now gather at the manger together? The likely oldest gospel, Mark, tells nothing of Jesus’ birth or childhood.  By the time of Matthew Luke, and even John in its own way, the writers knew they had to tell a story about how it all started.  Any writer will tell you well-crafted beginnings will reveal much about the whole story.  New Testament scholar Raymond Brown writes, “In a very real way…the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke are whole gospels.  They contain the basic revelation of the full identity of Jesus.”[1]As has been said before, think of the birth narratives as overtures foreshadowing the entire piece.

            We foreshadow today’s celebration in our own way.  Each Sunday during Advent, the month leading up to Christmas, we light a candle associated with a particular theme: hope, peace, joy, love, and Christ.  In the child we find these things – hope, peace, joy, love, and Christ, the tangible manifestation of the goodness and nearness of God.  How can you look at a newborn and not encounter the goodness and nearness of this great mystery, blessing come alive?

            Tonight, let us tell of four children, for they too point to a whole message.  A couple weeks ago, a woman went out to her car in New Albany, Indiana after the tornados in the middle of the country.  She noticed something on her windshield.  Initially, she thought someone had left her a note, but when she got closer she realized it was a photograph, black and white and dated 1942.  It featured a woman in a striped dress holding a child on her lap. She posted it online and soon after received a response.  Turns out, it had been blown by the storm…from Dawson Springs…Dawson Springs, Kentucky, 150 miles away.  The great grandchild of the woman in the picture identified it.[2]  What a powerful image.  We really are connected, aren’t we?

            Now I make a concerted effort not to include my family in my sermon illustrations, particularly my son.  He didn’t sign up for this, but for this second story, I’ll offer an exception.  Sunday night as we’d settled in to watch some Christmas specials, the power flickered and then went out.  We got out flashlights and got ready for bed.  Truth be told, it’s kind of fun in the dark.  Still, he slept in our room, just because, well you know.  It wasn’t long after, an hour or two maybe that the power came on.  As we readjusted, he said to me, you know tomorrow we should make cards for the PG&E people who never know when they’re going to have to get called to work, and the firefighters and police too.  I said that’s a good idea.  He continued, “and maybe we should send them $10 or something.”  Let’s not get carried away, son, I thought.  We are capable of being grateful and encouraging.  Even as we work to make things better, we can be grateful and encouraging in this miracle we call society. 

           The third story began when Danny Stewart was trying to catch a train in New York City to meet his partner at the time now husband Pete Mercurio. Stewart failed to catch an express train and so found himself alone at the subway stop when he saw a little bundle wrapped in a sweatshirt.  Something made him go look closer.  He thought it was a doll because he saw a tiny leg sticking out.  As he got closer, he realized it was a newborn, the umbilical cord still attached.  Stewart called 911, then his partner, and together they got the child to the hospital. Mercurio said, “You’re going to be—we’re going to be—connected to this baby in some way or another for the rest of your life.”  He had no idea.

            Three months later, Stewart was asked to testify at a hearing about what had happened.  The judge asked him, “Would you be interested in adopting?” 

            “Yes,” came the answer, “but I know it’s not that easy.” I don’t know if that was because the couple was gay or just because adoption is so difficult.  It just so happened, however, that there was a brief period of time—it only turned out to be for six months—when judges had the authority to expedite adoptions so children didn’t just get stuck in the system. Even though they didn’t have a lot of money, the couple thought they could make it work and they adopted the child. Kevin is now 21 and a student at Swarthmore College near Philadelphia.  We are capable of enormous caring, more than we often recognize.  Our reservoir can store so much compassion when we don’t fill it with other things.

            The fourth child was born a lot longer ago, and by now you know of whom I speak, but what does the birth of Jesus mean?  I don’t mean in churchy language.  In plain speaking, what does it mean?  At least in part, God showing up in Christ means what those other stories teach us: 

  1. Like those families in Indiana and Kentucky, we are connected.We are connected to every other being, human and beyond.  We can fool ourselves with the illusion of the contrary, but then life will slap an image on your window that reminds you that our fate is bound up together with one each other.  Jesus broke down the artificial barriers people built between them, making connections across lines assumed to be impenetrable.   
  2. Like a child who is grateful someone helped the lights come on, we can make it a practice to notice where the light shines, and we can be thankful for what the dark makes possible. Christian prayer almost always starts in gratitude, for it orients us to the world in a way that claims a deeper trust is well-placed.  And, while Jesus didn’t mince words with those who needed a tough message, he knew who needed words of encouragement and his own presence and solidarity which sometimes is even more important than $10. 
  3. Like the couple who raised a child found in the subway, we are capable of acting upon our connection, living into our responsibility for one another, and finding in it the greatest joy life has to offer. Jesus said, you “the one who trusts in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greaterworks than these” (Jn. 14:12).

We are connected.  We are responsible/We can be encouraging.  We are capable.  We were born for this.  In Christ’s birthday, we can be born again, because something bigger is at work.  John O’Donohue who was at different times a priest, a philosopher, and a poet wrote

"Despite all the darkness, human hope is based on the instinct that at the deepest level of reality some intimate kindness holds sway. This is the heart of blessing. To believe in blessing is to believe that our being here, our very presence in the world, is itself the first gift, the primal blessing. As Rilke says: Hier zu sein ist so viel — to be here is immense. Nowhere does the silence of the infinite lean so intensely as around the form of a newly born infant. Once we arrive, we enter into the inheritance of everything that has preceded us; we become heirs to the world. To be born is to be chosen. To be created and come to birth is to be blessed. Some primal kindness chose us and brought us through the forest of dreaming until we could emerge into the clearance of individuality, with a path of life opening before us through the world. 

"The beginning often holds the clue to everything that follows. Given the nature of our beginning, it is no wonder that our hearts are imbued with longing for beauty, meaning, order, creativity, compassion, and love. We approach the world with this roster of longings and expect that in some way the world will respond and confirm our desire. Our longing knows it cannot force the fulfillment of its desire; yet it does instinctively expect that primal benevolence to respond to it. This is the threshold where blessing comes alive.[3]

Friends, tonight we stand on the threshold of where the blessing comes alive.  Merry Christmas.  Amen.


[1]Raymond Brown, A Coming Christ in Advent: Essays on the Gospel Narratives Preparing for the Birth of Jesus Matthew 1 and Luke 1 (Collegeville:  The Liturgical Press, 1988), 12.