One of the best tests of community life is to have your community Christmas tree fall over in the middle of the night. Yesterday, I worked five hours on the tree. Beauty abounded, the compliments abundant. So, when I woke up this morning and went down for coffee, I thought I’d turn on the tree lights. Arriving in the dark, I wondered why there were some red ornaments strewn on the rug. When I turned on the ceiling light, I encountered pure horror. Five hours of work on the floor in pieces with a wet carpet. Of course, as some of the monks were going to parish, one remarked, “Looks like Santa bumped into it.” Even Abbot Hugh hds a smart remark: “Oh, oh, Elf on the Shelf got that one.” With that crack I retorted, “And if my community does not help me to raise the tree, you’re going to spend Christmas on the floor.” Needless to say, I had lots of help and the tree still stands. (I hope.)
And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. That is exactly what St. John means. In other words, God becomes a human being. God moves in among us. What do we do?
Notice that the readings for Christmas Day do not speak of the cute baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. The readings do not speak of Mary and Joseph or the Three Kings. Those readings belong to the earlier masses of Christmas and later Epiphany. This morning St. John presents us with a deeper meaning of the person of God.
It is an ancient venture this search for God. The scriptures tell us that our Jewish brothers and sisters yearned to encounter the person of God. But the Spirit of God is not to be found just on mountaintops or just in tabernacles. According to the prophets, God is found people of peace; God is uncovered in people with good news; God is discovered in people who comfort and redeem other people- the sick/the hurting/the elderly/the poor/an enemy/and especially the neighbor.
And the world becomes flesh and pitches his tent among us. In other words, God became a human being. God moves in among us and we do not believe Him.
About forty years ago, the local television news commentator Joel Daly told a story of a crusty old farmer who perennially declined to accompany his family to church on Christmas Eve. He had decided that it didn’t make sense, the Christmas story. Why, he asked, would God come to earth and suffer for us? What was the point? So he stayed home. On one such Christmas Eve, his solitude was disturbed by sharp thuds on the window. Checking, he found that, amidst the snowstorm outdoors, sparrows had become disoriented and were flying into his window in search of warmth and light. Poor dumb creatures, the man thought, flying into harm because they knew no better. So he dressed up and went outdoors, hoping to help by diverting them into his barn. But nothing worked, neither making a path with bread crumbs nor waving his arms like a madman, trying to scare them into the shelter. Both frustrated and saddened, he mumbled, “If only I could become one of you so that you could trust me.” And then, amidst the snowflakes, he understood why God had done what He had on the first Christmas.
And the world becomes flesh and pitches his tent among us. In other words, God becomes a human being. God moves in among us. God startles us.
To illustrate~ In December, 2014, the company Samsung planned a campaign to connect hearing impaired people with the world. In a suburb of Istanbul, Turkey, Samsung contacts a woman named Ozlem. They ask if she would be willing to part of a venture to set up places where the hearing impaired would join more of society through more people doing sign language. She agrees. Samsung then teaches a number of people of the village to learn sign language so when then run into Muharrem (some literally), then her brother will know of the kindness of strangers. An older man passes them by and signs, “Good morning.” Muharrem turns his head and is surprised. He and his sister walk into the bakery and the owner signs, “We have hot bagels.” Muharrem smiles. A man at the market drops his fruit purchases on purpose. The two pick up the fruit and the man signs, “I’d like to offer you an apple.” Muharrem signs to his sister, “Do you know him…is he hearing impaired?” Then as they round the corner, a woman bumps into Muharrem on purpose and signs, “Sorry, my mistake.” Even the taxi driver picking them up is prepared when he signs, “Hi, welcome.” By this time Muharrem wants to know what is going on since everyone speaks hhis language. Finally, walking down the street his sister tells him to look at the Samsung ad sign which is live. A woman is greeting him in sign language. She says, We have a “surprise for you because a world without barriers is our dream as well.” Samsung wants to launch a video call center for the hearing impaired. With that all the town folks come out to great Muharrem by waving their hands in the air to greet him. He breaks down and cries.
Gifts are wonderful at Christmastime. The sights and the sounds and the beauty of this sacred day fill our senses. We have lots of memories of Christmas from our childhood. But we also possess lots of bad memories of how things have gone wrongly, of how things have not worked well. We tend to remember more of the negative than the positive. So what if this Christmas Day we were to act differently? People expect us to be negative. People want us to be our old selves. People do not want us to change- they will not know what to do when we act divinely. God became a human being. God moved in next to us so that we would know what it is like to be divine. This Christmas Day surprise your family members and your friends and do deeds of divinity!
Merry, Merry Christmas!
Christmas Day, 2015
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.