December 25, 2016
This year I’ve been doing a preaching fellowship at the seminary. We have monthly small peer group meetings and a couple residencies scattered throughout the year where we all gather together. Our main leader/teacher/mentor is the preaching professor at Virginia Theological Seminary, Ruthanna Hooke. Her background is in theatre, so one of her main pushes is always to have us find ways to expand our preaching so it isn’t just about theology and research and careful wording but also about our whole selves, including our bodies. And so all kinds of interesting and surprising things are part of our time together. Yoga, improv, good snacks. And lots of body and voice techniques.
She has us take deep breaths and sigh out noisily, sometimes while letting our heads fall forward. Or she'll have us stretch out as far as we can and then relax different sections of our bodies. Or we'll hum from deep inside, feeling the vibrations in our heads and cheeks. She taught us how to stand squarely and planted, not leaning forward or backward or to one side.
Another emphasis of hers is really being present as we preach - not within our selves, or just acting to the outside world. She encourages us to take off our shoes when we’re in the pulpit so we can really feel the ground beneath us.
But my favorite, the one I’ve been most conscious about trying to do, she taught us near the end of our time together. We were gathered in a big circle around the room - shoes off, yoga mats scattered everywhere. We all took turns looking into the faces of each person gathered with us in the circle and saying, “I am here, in this place, with all of you.”
Ruthann encouraged us to at do that (at least in our heads) every time we stand up to preach - to step into the pulpit and look with love and empathy and imagination at the people around us.
I am here, in this place, with all of you.
I think that is exactly what Christmas is all about. That is what we are celebrating God doing today. On that first Christmas, God took a deep breath, made God’s self present with all of humanity, looked each one of us in the eyes, and announced, “I am here, in this place, with all of you.” I am not a distant, removed God. I am a God that feels what you feel. I am a God that suffers and hurts when you suffer and hurt. I am a God that knows how hard and how beautiful all of this can be. I am here, right here, in this place, with all of you, and I love you.
John’s Gospel that we read this morning places Jesus, the Word, in the beginning with God with his hand in every iota of creation. Even then, Jesus, the Word, was light and life, shining in the darkness. And then the Word became flesh and lived among us. Or you might be more familiar with the old fashioned King James version, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” But they are both a little more high-brow than what might be a more literal translation. The Word became flesh and “pitched a tent among us.” At the incarnation God set up camp, right here, in this place, with all of us. Our God goes where we go, is who we are, and is completely committed to us in all of our messiness and imperfection. We matter to God.
This is the miracle of Christmas - not the virgin birth or angel appearances or guiding stars. It’s God becoming flesh - letting there be no mistake that God chooses to be part and parcel of our human story, in this place, with all of us.
But Christmas doesn’t stop there. Christmas won't be over when the trees is gone or the decorations are stored away or the toys are all broken. Christmas is a promise from God to be present in the specific moments of our lives, our communities, our world. Every moment is a chance to encounter God with us, Emmanuel. Every moment is a chance to be on the lookout for heaven and earth being joined, the Word being made flesh, God pitching God’s tent in our midst.
And, every moment is a chance to participate in the miracle of incarnation. To pitch our own tents. To take a deep breath, look at the faces of the people around us (or to imagine the very real faces of strangers far from us), and announce in whatever ways we can, “I am here, in this place, with all of you.” And suddenly earth and heaven unite — there is God made flesh, there is the light shining through the darkness. And the darkness will not overcome it. Amen.