December 25, 2020
Christmas Day, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
A few years ago, Gloria Dei decided to dig into repairs of its building that had stymied several generations of facilities committees. Water seeped into hallways in the lower level, and literally poured through the wall of the choir room. In order to waterproof the foundation, we had to dig it up, expose the entire foundation down to the footers. Some of you may remember the mountains of dirt; the columns out front standing above stories of structure. At the time, I knew very little about the hidden parts of architecture: footings, and slabs, and even where the Minnesota frost line ended. As we poured over old drawings, I saw inside walls and floors, the wisdom of the architecture trade, crafted over centuries, holding up our sanctuary; literally holding up our prayer.
Seldom do we get to see the blueprints of the buildings that we inhabit every day. What is the architecture underneath our homes, our stables, our inns? On Christmas Eve we hear the story of Christmas above ground: angels gracing the night sky, shepherds making the earth-shifting decision to “go and see this thing that has been told to us,” Mary and Joseph, the donkey resting from the journey, the child, swaddled, held, and pondered.
On Christmas morning, after the shepherds have gone back to the fields, and the angels have retreated into heaven, and even most of the faithful have nestled into Christmas Day unwrapping and feasting, some of us tune in again because we sense there is even more to hear, to see–to look at the blueprints of this thing that has happened among us and to us.
This morning we read John’s gospel. We roll out plans of the universe, earth’s cosmic blueprint, the very mystery of the incarnation, almost too fancy of a word to use on Christmas Eve night, but essential for the brilliant daylight of Christmas morning. God in flesh, the fullness of love, the power of the entire universe, housed in Jesus, a baby, cells and bone. The sound of God’s very voice in the baby’s cry, the bubbling sputter of those tiny lips, already learning to respond and to the human face, those first twitches eventually becoming a smile, a laugh, but first a wail, a cry–hungry need stopping us in our tracks. God. All of God–not one shred absent–in a human life.
You know it had to be this way. Christmas morning is the inevitable result of the very beginning, that big bang, that moment when light exploded into darkness and began to expand, ever outward, ever forward, ever more beautiful and complex and mysterious. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John begins his gospel with the blueprint for the whole created order. The universe peeled back to show the glittering, pulsating, beating presence of God united with star and rock and river and tree, moon and planet—Jupiter and Saturn–united in light, united in wisdom, united in God.
Jesus Christ is the blueprint, the plans for how it’s all put together. He’s the sign of what we’ve stood on all along, the symbol of what was and what will come.
When I was little, I imagined that Christmas was all about me. It was receiving gifts and having piles of ham at Aunt Marilyn’s house. As an unsure adolescent, Christmas meant Jesus would forgive my sins–the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus somehow about my own personal rescue plan. Lately, I’ve wondered if American Christianity’s interpretation of the Christmas stories is way too small, way too individualistic, way too judgmental, way too easy to cast ourselves as a hero in the divine narrative. Jesus was born for me.
John makes “my Jesus” into the cosmic and universal Christ, the image of God, the wisdom that Christians see in Jesus, but is present in all religions: compassion, peace—salaam, shalom, unity, justice, mercy, yin and yang.
One of my great challenges is that it’s hard for me to sit still. I’m on the move, or if I’m sitting in a chair, my mind is on the move. I’m always walking into the next moment. I have a hard time listening because I’m always thinking about what to say next. Even when hosting friends or family for dinner, particularly on these big holidays, I have to remind myself to stay seated at the table and not jump up to start clearing the dishes before everyone is finished. Time to get the dessert ready! I have to tell myself. “Sit here. These people aren’t at this table so much for the dessert as they are for this moment, this time of laughter and conversation, even this time of debate about the issues of the day. This moment of being human beings together, the empty plates as much part of the experience as my rushing and churning inner life.
I used to think that people had a hard time keeping Advent, rushing ahead into Christmas with parties and shopping, decorating and baking. I’ve learned over time that this IS actually the work of preparation: writing cards, getting the packages to the UPS store on the last day possible, practicing for the children’s program, going to concerts, baking cookies. Our problem isn’t trying to have a real Advent. I think our problem is having a real Christmas: dwelling, abiding, being, taking in the gift of life, the gift of grace upon grace, light from light, true God from true God.
Our whole culture teaches us that THIS moment is not enough. The whole world says, “You’re not enough.” We love New Year’s more than Christmas. Resolutions more than acceptance. When I moved to Georgia in 1995, I learned that it was bad luck to have your Christmas tree up past New Year’s Eve. Out with the old; in with the new.
In a year when we’ve been forced to stay home, maybe it’s a chance to see something about “where we are.” With little travel, and fewer gatherings with family, not so much cleaning and cooking, rushing to church and back, we can sit and take it in. God’s deep and abiding love bubbling and surging in the places where we live. Even our grief and sadness about our losses this year is a sign that love has made a home in our lives. God is at home. God has always been at home…with us…among us…within in us. It didn’t take a pandemic for God to shelter with us. Maybe it takes a pandemic for us to notice, to have enough of the routine changed, for us to stop and dwell in the wisdom that set the whole universe into motion.
I have a sign in my office that says, “Don’t just do something. Sit there.”
So for today, breathe deep, let the heart slow for a moment, the mind rest, tap into the foundation, the architecture of your soul, your heart a house for God. In that moment, in that place, is your power to be the children of God.
Merry Christmas. Amen.