Reflecting on the Journey
Love reveals itself in the unexpected, the unusual, and the unknown!
The first time I said it, I guess I was trying to be cute. The forty-fourth time? Well, it’s starting to wear. Welcome to the wilderness! If I remember right, this whole pandemic thing was supposed to last only a week or two or, maybe, three. We’re now into our tenth month. But we’ve adjusted. And we’ve adapted. We’ve, even, evolved. And we’ve survived. At least, so far. What comes next, only god knows. And that’s not something we’re used to. Not knowing.
Stop and think, for a moment. We’re the church. We’re god’s very own. When was the last time something happened – the last time anything – surprised us! We’re the ones who always know what would happen. The ones who have always known what to expect. Year after year. Decade after decade. For generations on end. Christmas always follow Advent. Epiphany always comes after Christmas. Lent leads to Easter leads to Pentecost. Day of. Sundays after. And then, it starts all over, again. Nothing unscripted. Nothing unscheduled. Singing the same songs. Saying the same prayers. Reading the words we have always read. Most of us, sitting in the same pews. It’s the same everywhere … denominational or not. It’s just the way it is. Nothing creative. Nothing original. We live in echoes and reflections.
How does the Preacher put it? “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.“ Nothing to shock. Nothing to startle. The world, simply, goes ‘round and ‘round and ‘round, day after day after day. And we go with it. We may not know the day and hour of a secondComing. But we do know Christmas. By heart. And we’ve celebrated it for as long as we can remember. With all the habits and all the customs and all the traditions. And each time, every time, nothing unexpected happens. We’re never, ever surprised.
But then, one year, we sell our building. And the next year, a pandemic assails us. And it all changes. The rug pulled from under us. Everything we assumed … everything we expected … everything we believed in … is gone. And in that moment, we’re bornAgain! BornAgain in the things beyond our control. BornAgain in the new and unfamiliar! God cries out, “I make everything new!” And for a while we push back. For a while we resist. But when all is done and spoken, we are changed! Swept up and carried away by the unexpected! By the surprise! And that, my friends, is Christmas! We do our best to tame it. We try our hardest to make it boring and unexciting. But in spite of our efforts, Christmas breaks through! And something that never was, is now!
Christmas, if it is anything – is grace, is charity, is love! And love is always unexpected! Love is always a surprise! Grace comes without our help! Grace comes without our permission! That’s what makes it so amazing! We try to restrain it. We try to restrict it. We try to make it fit into our world. But grace does what grace will! It comes and it makes this place home! And we’re surprised! We’re shocked! We’re saved! Grace enters the world and the ordinary becomes exceptional. The commonplace becomes remarkable. And we have nothing to do with it! In the end – as at the beginning – all we can do is stand and stare! We try to make it go away, but it doesn’t! To pretend it doesn’t exist, but we can’t! And Christmas keeps coming back – the real Christmas full of grace – keeps coming back! Year after year after year! Persistent! Relentless! Unyielding! Sunday after Sunday! Season after season! Surprising us … in people and things … times and places … we never saw coming! And all we can do is believe! Believe in the magic! Believe in the miracle! Believe in the mystery of it all.
God loves us! God loves us all! And nothing – nothing and no one – can change that! Not even us! With every palm full of water … every pinch of bread … every sip of wine … that grace surprises us over and over! Surprises us by the wonder of it all! We still try to curb it. To check it. To keep everything just the way it is. Just the way it’s always been. We try to distract with the decorations. To confuse with the carols. We mark the day as if it’s more important to prepare, to get ready, than it is to celebrate. We focus on the gifts, the cards. Advent, for us, is a countdown. T-minus five shopping days till Christmas. And then, before we know it, it’s all over. At least, for us. The day after, everything’s back in the boxes. The trees in the alley. And it’s business as usual, until we drag it all out and dust if off, again, next Thanksgiving. Just like we did, this year. And last year. And the year before that. Nothing unexpected. Nothing unusual. Nothing surprising.
But, you know, that’s not Christmas. That’s not church. That’s not believing. You and I … we expect the unexpected! We climb mountains to look down on the promises! We look for the dreams, yet to come true! We look for promises yet to be kept! And it’s all anchored, all rooted, right here! In the grace! In the charity! In the love! My advice to you, this week? Look for the unexpected! Look for the surprise! Look for the gift that won’t fit under the tree or in the stocking! Listen for the angels! And look for the star! Love is coming! Coming quickly! Coming soon! And that love looks like a baby … wrapped in bands of cloth … lying in a manger … Glory to god in the highest heaven? Glory to the god born in a stable! My friends, what greater surprise could there be than that?!?