Feeling the Glow

December 21, 2014 – Rev. Jan Hryniewicz

Text: Isaiah 9: 2 – 7 & John 1: 1 – 5 & 14

Snoopy of Charlie Brown comic strip fame is typing a novel. He begins his story, “It was a dark and stormy night …” Snoopy always starts his stories in this manner. Lucy looks at what Snoopy has written. She goes into a tirade, putting down Snoopy for such a silly beginning. Doesn’t Snoopy know that any good story starts with the words, “Once upon a time …”

The last frame of the comic strip has Snoopy starting his story again. Now he is ready. He types, “Once upon a time, it was a dark and stormy night.” Ever feel like Snoopy sometimes!?

I don’t know about you, but I have been doing battle with the Grinch this Advent season….. He or she or it…has been trying really hard to steal the Christmas spirit from my heart and soul! Has tried to slither in, pack up and remove the magic and leave behind a residue of cynicism and grumpiness. The Grinches of the world have tried to overpower the love.

This story aired on NBC news

When Baby Jesus disappeared … from a Nativity scene on the lawn of the Wellington, Fla., community center, village officials didn’t follow a star to locate him. A GPS device mounted inside the life-size ceramic figurine led sheriff’s deputies to a nearby apartment, where it was found face down on the carpet. An 18-year-old woman was arrested in the theft.

Giving up on old-fashioned padlocks, a number of churches, synagogues, governments and ordinary citizens are turning to technology to protect holiday displays from pranks or prejudice.

It’s a sign of the times. Holiday display theft is on the rise, and Baby Jesus is a particularly common target.

  • At First United Methodist Church in Kittanning, PA., a baby Jesus was stolen and replaced with a pumpkin.
  • In Eureka Springs, AK., someone who took off with a plastic baby Jesus from a public display, as well as the concrete block and chain that was supposed to keep it locked down.
  • In Meridian Hills, IN, a couple stole the figurine, and then led police on a high-speed chase in an effort to keep their loot.
  • A parishioner of a Brooklyn church prayed that whoever stole the Baby Jesus from a $1,700 Nativity scene dedicated to his late parents would have the heart to return it.

Sensing the opportunity, reports NBC News, security companies have increasingly started rolling out products and special seasonal contracts specifically designed to address the threat. ”

Can you believe that! One might wonder the significance of stealing baby Jesus. Is it symptomatic of their need for him in their lives….or are they trying to make an anti Christian statement?!

Sadly, there is much in the world that distracts us from feeling the glow of Christmas, be in burglary, illness, violence, racial tension, commercialism, broken relationships, stress…the news!

Fortunately, for me, a sweet army of “who’s” have been helping me win the war….to reclaim the love…. to banish the Grinch!

On Monday, 104 people gathered around beautifully decorated tables for the Christmas meatloaf dinner at the Saco Meals Program… greeting the volunteers with appreciative applause and smiling faces and expressions of gratitude. Dedicated volunteers from this church and from the meals program made it happen.

This past week, a man who has been sleeping under some steps in Biddeford now has an apartment, furnished with a bed, couch, table, chairs and various other precious treasures that make a home. He is overwhelmed with gratitude…tears of joy….. hugs of appreciation….and once again, our Union Church family responded with generous hearts which warmed my heart.

On Wednesday, a group of 20 some at risk teens enjoyed pizza and home made Christmas cookies and some listening ears and went home with gift cards, warm gloves, hats and scarves, many made by our Knit Wits.   I had a lovely conversation with a sweet girl who was creating a poster for her room that said “Attitude is Everything.” She told me that her dream is to be a Vet. I hope she realizes that dream.

So who cares if the house is a mess, the shopping & wrapping not done, the baking put on hold, the cards not written! I was out doing the work of Christmas with many of you…. who care deeply about the welfare of your sisters and brothers in need. Grinches of the world…. be gone!!

Our message this morning, this Christmas Sunday is entitled…. “feeling the glow”. It’s about embracing the love…. becoming one with the Divine Spirit….the Christ child… who once again makes front page news…..for a day or two.

In a video released Tuesday, the police department in Lowell, Michigan helped people with their Christmas shopping instead of handing out tickets. Over two days in November, Officer Scot VanSolkema stopped unsuspecting drivers for minor infractions, like illegally tinted windows, that the department might normally let slide, according to Today.

After he pulled them over, VanSolkema made small talk and sneakily asked drivers what they or their kids wanted for Christmas. Meanwhile, a group of helpers were standing by at a nearby store. As soon as they heard a driver’s Christmas wish, they’d race to find, buy, wrap and deliver it to VanSolkema.

Instead of tickets, the officer handed over gifts, like a new TV and an electric scooter. Drivers had reactions that turned from irritation into confusion before melting into joy, and, in some cases, hugs. They were feeling the glow of Christmas!

The beautiful, very familiar passage from the book of Isaiah that Joe just read, proclaims that “ the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.. their joy has been increased… the rod of their oppressor has been broken.” This is the prediction of a glorious, righteous reign when the Grinch is no more and God’s kingdom of peace and justice love will thrive and be the operative force in all of creation… the default mode of our existence! Bim, bam, boom…all the Who’s in Whoville will rejoice! Generations of humanity have been waiting for this happen without realizing that it IS happening…all the time…all around us and within us! The message of Christmas validates it if we get the message!

The familiar passage from the gospel of John proclaims that the Light shines in the darkness…. that the Word has become flesh…and dwells within us….or an exact translation from the Greek states that the Word sojourns with us. (I like that) And this in a nutshell is the message of Christmas…..Incarnation….God’s spirit manifested in human form…. in a precious baby in a manger. What does that mean for you and for me? Let’s flesh that our a bit….(sorry!)

Pause for a moment and listen to some profound words from one of my most valued mentors: Fr. Richard Rohr, who shares this insight:

God did not just take on one human nature, although that is where we could first risk imagining it in the body of Jesus. God took on all human nature and said “yes” to it forever! In varying degrees and with infinite qualities, God took on everything physical, material, and natural as Godself. That is the full meaning of the Incarnation.

For most Christians, Jesus is totally divine, but not totally human. We deny his humanity and overly assert his divinity—instead of the very synthesis that he came to exemplify, announce, and share! We’ve paid a big price for such dualistic thinking because when we can’t put it together in him, we can’t put it together in ourselves either. And that’s the whole point! You and I are simultaneously children of heaven and children of earth, divine and human coexisting in a well hidden disguise. We are a living paradox, just as Jesus was. We also are a seeming contradiction that is not a contradiction at all. Most Christians were simply never told the real good news that flesh and spirit, divine and human, coexist. That was not made clear in Jesus and surely not in ourselves. The consequences have been disastrous at all levels. Matter always reveals Spirit, and Spirit lies hidden in all that is physical, material, earthly, human, flawed, and failing. Everything is a sacrament! Nothing else could be called utter and final good news except this message. It is indeed a benevolent universe.”

Please, if this awakens some understanding in you or if you want to really think about it, ask me to send it to you via email, or read it on our website where the sermons are posted. It takes some thought…. and yet it is as simple as saying… we are at ONE with God…. and if we can get to the heart of the Christmas message….we can awaken the Divine Spirit within us….it will be born and reborn in us…and we become the miracle….we become the light….we become the love!

The wonderful spiritual mystic, Thomas Merton wrote that love is our destiny. He believed in faith that his encounters with the living God were incarnated in the events of his daily living that called him out of self-centeredness to love his neighbors. Only within his relationship to his neighbors did Merton hope to realize the deepest ground of his being.   He wrote: “ If the deepest ground of my being is love, then in that very love and nowhere else will I find myself, the world and my brother and sister in Christ. It is not a question of either or but of all in one.”

The incarnational message of Christmas calls us to recognize and awaken the indwelling Spirit of the divine in us….. that we must be about BECOMING the light….BECOMING the love that creation needs. Christmas is not only a month long spectacular event of gift exchanges, delectable holiday goodies, warm, fuzzy feelings and lively parties….. of concerts and caroling and pageants and pretty lights.

It’s a way of life. It needs to be our default mode!

Two weeks ago, the tag team of Jan and Ken, mentioned that the Gospel of Thomas which has been the focus of an online course I am taking by Cynthia Borgeault does not deal with birth narratives. It deals with what Jesus said…his teachings…. and not about the unknowable facts of his life.

In verse ( or Logion) 70: Jesus says

If you bring forth that which is within yourself,

What you bring forth will save you.

If you have nothing within yourself,

What you do not have will kill you.

Pretty clear…very blunt, don’t you agree!?   We do have the Love, the Light…the divine Spirit within us…we have to feel its glow and own it…believe it! If we are able to do this….it will save us….and save our universe.

No small order….this message of Christmas!

Cynthia Borgeault writes:

To be made “in the image of God” means not only to be created, but to be creative: to realize within oneself the same dynamic and generative principle that flows from the divine life force itself. It is quite possibly our most underutilized human birthright.

Today is the shortest day of the year, and tonight the longest night. The Winter solstice. 15 hours of darkness. Earth has turned itself away from the sun. We light candles to dispel the darkness….we beat drums to call back the sun…we light bonfires to brighten the night and provide warmth. As in the cycle of the universe, from time to time, shadows hover and darkness descends on our lives…on our planet… for we have turned away from the Light of God. We can stumble about in the darkness or we can choose to ignite the light of hope, peace, joy and love…and we can remember a time when God came to blaze in the hearts of the people at the miracle of the manger…to tell the world that darkness will not prevail….that the grinches will not win!

I close with another of Jesus’ teachings from the Gospel of Thomas:

His students said to him,

“Take us to the place where you are,

since it is necessary that we seek for it.”

Jesus replied,

“Whoever has ears, let him hear.

Light shines forth from a being of light

and illuminates the whole cosmos.

The one who fails to become light

is a source of darkness.”

(Logion 24)

May we feel the glow…..become the Light. Amen.

Oops….one more thought for you…

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,

Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?”

“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!”

“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”

And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.”

“Maybe Christmas. . . perhaps. . means a little bit more!”

What will it mean for you this year? Amen!