Year A; FB.Christmas Eve, 7:30 p.m.
Joyous Christmas, one and all! It’s a cold night in Brunswick, Maine as the people of God gather together and celebrate the Nativity of Jesus, the birth of God in Christ.
The Word Made Flesh, Jesus Christ, began life among us in a state of frailty and humility, vulnerability and homelessness. The paradox of tonight is that God in human form has come among us and he died for the love of us all.
I recently saw a meme on Facebook from the digital monks who call themselves the Unvirtuous Abbey. They get the truth of our celebration tonight. The meme is a scene from a beautiful and serene 16th century Flemish painting of the Nativity of Christ. It is painted in classic style of perfect symmetry, a modest shed made of wood and a wooden manger with a Flemish-looking child lying in it. The manger is flanked by Mary on the right, kneeling toward the baby Jesus. Joseph is standing on the left looking down at the manger.
There is a caption at the top of the meme, “Spoiler Alert!” Looking past the manger in this painting, you can see that someone has drawn a large red circle around something in the background. At the heart of the red circle is a very small crucifix affixed to one of the beams in the back of the shed. In this serene Nativity scene, the viewer sees the spectrum of Christ’s life: a child, a Savior, born in the manger. And this same Savior dies on the cross.
The Unvirtuous Abbey digital monks point us to the Nativity and beyond to Good Friday. A scene of Christ’s birth with all the alleluias and glorias of the angels and shepherds has the crucifixion in its background. And yet, people of faith know that we are here because of the “alleluias” beyond the crucifixion. “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again,” for the love of God, we can shout Easter “alleluias” for this good news.
Our Presiding Bishop, The Most Reverend Michael Curry has spent his entire vocation preaching the love of God in all things. After nearly nine years as the voice of the Episcopal Church worldwide, he has passed along the message of love to us. “God’s way is love.” In Michael Curry’s Christmas message, he preaches the truth of Christmas: “Love is the way. It’s not naïve. It’s not unrealistic. It is the only way…Love always.”
The story of the Nativity is one of God’s love expressed in vulnerability. Scholars argue that the story is not exactly historically true. But I say that it’s the story of God’s truth. The story of Christmas isn’t about historical truth. It’s the truth that happened out of God’s pure love.. Each of us is born with a soul of love and that’s the truth. And to prove it, God is born in the soulful flesh of a helpless baby. God shows us the way of sacrificial love to the end and beyond.
We are to pass along that love and care. Not just to dance and rejoice this holy night and then head home to close our doors to the world. We are called to engage the world and its vulnerabilities with good news of God’s love and to reach out when we can, to relieve those in distress and trouble. If you’ve ever been in trouble or distress or experienced that sinking feeling of frailty, or have whispered to yourself, “I don’t think I can take any more,” you know what a relief it is for someone to see your distress and help you.
Nearly ten years ago, I moved from Plainfield, New Jersey to Brunswick, Maine. I had two weeks to prepare to move. I was on my own since John had died 18 months earlier. I had not made a move like this without him.
The movers needed two days to pack me up. On the second day of packing, a neighbor stopped by to see how I was doing. She and her husband owned “The Pillars,” a Bed & Breakfast in one of the historic Victorian homes in my neighborhood. She made an invitation to me that I didn’t even know I needed. She said, “Carolyn, you won’t have a bed to sleep in tonight when they pack you up. Come to ‘The Pillars’ and we will take care of you for the night. Bring Sophie and she can sleep with you. Come, stay with us.”
“Come, stay with us,” was a simple invitation from my neighbor to me. My circumstances were nothing at all in comparison with the need for shelter that night in Bethlehem. My situation was nothing like the chronic poverty and homelessness we see in our neighbors. Still, someone saw to it to provide for me in my vulnerability.
This is an important lesson from the story of Jesus’ birth we heard tonight. A family was in dire need. Someone saw their need and gave them a roof over their head. Perhaps it wasn’t as orderly and beautifully painted as a Flemish Nativity scene. But there was provision. God not only gave himself to us from the depths of his love in the vulnerable baby Jesus. God’s Spirit planted in others a sense of love and care for the holy homeless family. That’s a call for us, too.
Last week, I attended the Brunswick Town Council meeting on Zoom. One of the agenda items was what to do about the end of Maine Housing Emergency rental funding that helps to keep the most vulnerable neighbors from being evicted for not being able to pay the high rents in our area. There was talk of the town assisting in funding emergency housing and skyrocketing utility prices.
One council member said that she brought blankets to The Gathering Place and that she had heard that The Gathering Place was trying to find funding to be open as a warming center 24/7 during the coldest months. She said she knew of someone who was living in a tent. Another council member said he knew of several people living in tents in the woods. Another person said that The Gathering Place needed $20,000 to fund staffing for the overnight warming place.
As I watched on Zoom, I thought of St. Paul’s and our commitment of support for The Gathering Place, a place that supports the most vulnerable in our community. I wanted to be able to help fund the warming center. So, I wrote an email to the community navigator to ask how I could help support keeping the doors open during the coldest nights of the year. I also called the Executive Director and offered food and gas cards for their guests.
Just two days ago, I received a letter from a Town council member asking St. Paul’s and other faith communities if we would support a joint effort between the Town Council and the Southern Mid Coast Maine Housing Collaborative to help fund the warming center. This collaboration between the Town and housing advocates was very good news. Yesterday, I was able to hand deliver a generous check to The Gathering Place funded from the St. Paul’s Rector’s Discretionary Fund that your gifts support. You, the faithful of this parish demonstrate the kind of love and care the story tonight calls us to pass along. Thank you.
Tonight, we celebrate with the angels who called out the good news of God’s love born in Bethlehem to those who knew scarcity and lowliness, and life on the margins, the shepherds. The “spoiler alert” tonight is that Love was born in a manger AND Love was hanging on a cross AND Love is raised so that we might pass it forward into a world that needs love so very much!
Merry Christmas! And an Easter Alleluia!