11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
Reflection December 22, 2019
"And on Earth Peace" - Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
On Christmas morning at our 10 am worship service, we will hear these famous words from Luke’s Gospel: and “she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
The English writer, G.K. Chesterton, in one of his poems wrote: “The place where God was homeless – we are all at home.” There are so many homeless around us, so many without shelter and care, so many millions of refugees. Probably no word symbolizes the suffering of our world better than the word “homeless.”
This word reveals one of the deepest and most painful conditions, the condition of not having a sense of belonging, having no place, no space, where one feels safe, cared for, protected, and loved.
As we enter the most brutal time of year, I worry about how the homeless endure brutally cold days and nights. I know there are shelters. I’ve worked in a few of them over the years. But the cold must wear down one’s soul over time. Please remember all the homeless during these difficult winter days.
Yet many of us who have homes may still experience feelings of homelessness. We may feel rootless. We may feel lonely. We may feel ourselves lost on a sea of darkness and despair. The fact is that we are truly homeless until we discover the home within us, the place of God, the manger within where the God-child might be laid.
Without finding such a home, we go around seeking our home in success or status. Yet that overly-trod path leads us to becoming strangers to ourselves, people who have an address but who are never home.
For us to travel the spiritual path, the path of Christ, means we must come home to where our first love lives. Christmas is the feast of our homecoming. The place where God was homeless, we are all at home. Yet this homecoming requires discipline because our fears and anxieties make us restless and keep driving us away from our true selves.
Christmas is the day when we glimpse our true home. Christmas is the day when we can rest our restless souls, when we can sooth our restive hearts. Christmas is the day we remember that no matter where we are in the life process, no matter our age, we are all children of God. We are newborn from the hands of God at every moment. Our dependency, our indebtedness to God, does not go away when we become adults. Christmas is the day when we can finally vanquish our fears and calm our anxieties so we might sit as the children of God we are.
As God’s children, Christmas invites us to gaze lovingly at the God-child born into our world through Mary, born into our world so we might know how deeply we are loved and cherished by our Maker.
Do not all of us need to finally sit our weary selves down at the crib and marvel at the love shining in the eyes of our Christmas Child? This Christmas Child who tells us all we need to know about a God who chooses flesh to wrap around the majesty of divinity?
Our true home is in the heart of our God. How do we get home to God’s heart? We come home through the birth, the life, the death and the Resurrection of the Christmas Child.
As we may know, no one really knows the exact date of Jesus’ birth. The actual date is hidden in the memory of God. But there is much speculation about why December 25 was chosen to celebrate Christ’s birthday.
There was a Roman pagan celebration on December 25 for Sol Invictus, the unconquered sun. It was on the 25th of December that it became obvious that the days were lengthening. The sun, idolized by the Romans as a god, had once again not been conquered by night.
It would make sense, then, to celebrate Christ’s birth, the true unconquered Son, on December 25. What really matters is not the date of Jesus’ birth, what really matters is that the Son of God came to share our life with us. We worship God on Christmas today because of the love God revealed in the birth of Jesus Christ.
As the German theologian, Karl Rahner, noted in a Christmas sermon: “Let us worship God because he loved us and our poor flesh so much that he placed it imperishably for all eternity in the very midst of the blazing flame of his Godhead.” Fancy words for a simple truth: On Christmas Day we celebrate the greatest gift ever given to humankind.
It’s all gift! Christmas joins the giver and the gift, the call and the answer. To enter into the close and holy grace of Christmas, we need but one thing: to be grateful. As Ronald Rolheiser notes in “The Holy Longing” – a quote I’ve used before: “To be a saint is to be motivated by gratitude, nothing more and nothing less…To be a saint is never to take anything as owed, but to receive everything, gratefully, as gift.”
I hope everyone from our beloved church gets what he or she hoped for at Christmas. But let us remind ourselves of a Christmas truth with these words from Chesterton: “Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big it only went halfway into my stocking (hung on the mantle). Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself.”
Christmas is the day when we say “thanks” more deeply than any other day. Christ’s birth in Bethlehem was the end of Act One, in the great Two Act play of Redemption. Act Two is already underway. We know how Act Two will end, the Prince of Peace will return to bring the fullness of peace to a world starving for it.
Maybe all of us at Morgan Park American Baptist Church can help hasten the return of the Prince of Peace by seeking to be peacemakers in our violence and war-ravaged world. My Christmas Hope this year is for our church to continue being a beacon of peace in our neighborhood and in our world. I suggest that each of us on Christmas Day try as hard as we can to be a person of peace. Christmas is also a day when we can most assuredly plead with the Prince of Peace to unleash his Promised Peace.
As Rahner notes: “God’s advent among us long ago (in Bethlehem) outstripped all our plans and all our disappointments, the abysses within us are filled with God’s grace.” It’s all grace! It’s all love! It’s all blessing! I am so grateful to our beloved church for providing me a home, a refuge, almost 12 years ago! I end with my Christmas poem:
How to capture what cannot be caught?
So I wonder as Christmas comes bringing
Its visions of candy canes and cribs.
But as star-shine again strikes my eye,
I marvel over and over at this God child
Who burned to be born into this bruised
And battered place we call our world.
Let’s try to comprehend if we can
How the One who gathers galaxies
Into his arms, stopped to embrace
One tiny world whirling through space.
And in that embrace took to himself
All the hurt that has ever happened
And all the darkness that ever dawned.
Sometimes we get so easily caught
In Christmas chaos, that we forget
To remember who this baby was.
This baby who continues to tell
Us all we need to know about a God
Who chooses flesh to wrap himself in.
This God who created all the worlds
That ever were and ever will be.
This God who dances across the sky
And dazzles the dark with his light,
Now comes to us crying in his crib.