Today’s sermon can be heard on the Christ Church website, or read here.
There is something vitally important about being looked in the eye. We’ve all been in those conversations where it feels like the other person can’t wait to get away from you. While they may be talking in your general direction, their eyes are scanning the room, searching for an escape route or perhaps someone more important to talk to. It can be disheartening to be talking to someone while they look around for anything else to do. In my pastoral care training, they shared with us that the most overlooked people in the hallways of hospitals are the patients. Rolling around in wheelchairs and on gurneys, their eyes are well below the eyeline of others walking the halls. While any number of people may say hello to the person pushing a patient down the hall, very rarely does the patient actually get acknowledged.
The same is true of children. The world seems to exist above their heads, literally and figuratively, as adults discuss things three feet higher than they are. I was reminded of this over this past week after Lainey received a pretend ice cream and hot dog stand for Christmas. The stand has an awning at the top, that is maybe three feet off the ground, so when I approached it to order a delicious ice cream sandwich, I found myself talking to the awning rather than the eager five-year-old who was ready to take my order. It is only when I crouch down to her level that she and I can really enjoy the experience. Over this past week, we must have played ice-cream-hot-dog cart a hundred times, and everybody got in on the action. I noticed the power of making eye contact especially when my sister engaged Shopkeeper Lainey. Lisa is a special education administrator in Philadelphia. For more than a decade now, she has been dealing with children who are often overlooked. As Lisa crouched down to buy another Philly soft pretzel from Lainey’s Snack Stand, I could see that this was her standard posture. While most of us looked around for something to sit on, Lisa was perfectly comfortable crouching down to look a child in the eye, making Lainey feel special, loved, and cared for.
I can’t help but see my sister crouching down to engage a child with special needs when I read the Prologue to John’s Gospel. The language is certainly lofty, but the story it conveys is earthy and raw. It is the story of how the God of all Creation stooped down to look humanity in the eye and share with us that we are special, loved, and cared for. The story begins when all that existed was God. In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were in a perfect relationship of love with one another. The Word was with God and the Word was God, and as God spoke, the Word went forth and created. The Word created the sun, moon, and stars, the earth and all that walks, creeps, and crawls upon it, the ocean and all that swims therein. Finally, from the voice of God the Word created humanity, and the Breath gave us life, and the Triune God looked upon all that Creator, Word, and Breath had made and declared it very good.
From then on, God could have stayed far away and simply watched creation like a science experiment, but God didn’t do that. God loves creation too much to leave us to our own devices, and so, throughout history, God has intervened in the hopes of keeping us in right relationship with God and with one another. Through Abraham, he made a covenant that God would bless the whole earth. Through Moses, he gave the law, by which we were to live in peace with one another. Again and again, we failed to maintain those perfect relationships. Again and again, we fell into sin. Again and again, we proved that we needed extra help. Through the prophets, God called us to return, but in time, it became clear that God was speaking above our heads. The only way God could really get our attention was by crouching down, looking humanity in the eye, and saying, beyond the shadow of a doubt, “I love you.” And so, in the fullness of time, the Word who is the light of the world, took on flesh and lived among us. In his translation of the Bible called The Message, Eugene Peterson puts this powerful verse like this, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” The good news of Christmas is that God’s very self was born for us. God took on flesh to live as one of us. He entered the messiness of this world, to the point of being born in a barn and laid in a feed trough. God didn’t stand aside, watching creation uncreate itself through the screen of his divine iPad. Instead, God stooped down from heaven and moved into the neighborhood so that he could look us in the eye and affirm that we are loved beyond all measure.
Over the course of our new liturgical year, we’ll journey through Mark’s Gospel and find out what it means for the Divine to stoop down to engage humanity face-to-face; for the Word that John speaks of in such lofty language to move into the neighborhood. In his haste to bring us the Good News, Mark will make us run through the details of Jesus’ life. He will carefully focus our attention on Jesus’ ministry of service, beginning with Jesus being baptized by his cousin John in the Jordan River and being declared as “beloved Son” by both a voice from heaven and the descending of the Spirit as a dove. Many miraculous events will follow: he will drive out evil spirits, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, make the paralyzed to stand up and walk, and even raise the dead to new life. By way of several parables, Jesus will teach us what it means to live in the Kingdom of God. Over the course of his active ministry, Jesus will have no place to lay his head, and yet, out of an abundance of compassion, he will feed thousands upon thousands with scarce resources. He’ll find comfort in friends, be anointed by a stranger, terrorized by enemies, and tempted by the devil. Finally, he’ll be handed over by a traitor, spit upon by his enemies, tried by a coward, and killed at the hand of Rome, only to rise again on the third day. Jesus, the Word of God who took on flesh and blood, will not stand idly by while real life goes on around him, but instead he will experience the roller coaster nature of human life, taking it all into himself, redeeming the good and bad, highs and lows, joys and sorrows.
As we heard on Christmas Eve, to us is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This is the Good News of Mega Joy of Christmas. God, who could have very easily sat back and watched as the creation he spoke into being destroy itself by selfishness and jealousy, instead came to earth and lived and died as one of us so that we might know how much God loves us. Two thousand years later, the Incarnation still means that God is present in our joys and in our sorrows. God is present as we come to the end of 2017, whether we think back on it with fondness, or hope to forget it ever happened. God is present as we prepare for what 2018 has to offer, whether it is the joy of a child or grandchild, the promise of a new career, or the cold diagnosis of disease. God is present in the joy-filled songs at 10 o’clock and in the simple recitation of the liturgy at 8am. God is present in traffic on Scottsville Road, in the waiting room, in the shopping mall, and in school. No matter where we are or what we are feeling, the good news of Christmas is that God moved into the neighborhood in order to look humanity in the eye, to look you in the eye, and make sure you know that you are special, you are cared for, and God loves you. Amen.