We started English as a Second Language and after school tutoring at that church when a small group of educators wanted to connect with the town’s growing Hispanic community. There was some opposition. One dear saint suggested we check for green cards before offering ESL classes. When I asked if we would be checking everyone’s ID every Sunday before worship, that idea died. Perhaps defensively, I peppered my preaching with Jesus’ second commandment and Matthew 25. I even retold the story of the Good Samaritan, putting in a burn line about asking for a green card. My preaching did not change hearts. In fact, one longtime member, Mrs. Anonymous, dropped by my study to make her displeasure crystal clear.
A few weeks later, Mrs. Anonymous found herself in line at Kroger, reluctantly right behind a Hispanic family. You could hear kindness as the mother spoke tenderly to her children in Spanish. But, Mrs. A was angry that the mother spoke Spanish in her town, so she dramatically twisted her head away. But she had to check progress in the grocery line. And so when Mrs A. relaxed and looked back, behold, she saw the babe nestled in the shopping cart’s seat gazing upon her. The child spoke first with a giggle and laugh, perhaps tickled at Mrs. A’s exaggerated scowl. The baby’s beautiful caramel skin, deep brown eyes, curly black locks, and invitational smile cast a spell over Mrs. A. She leaned forward and spoke to the baby in the familiar human language of grandmothers and grandbabies. They got lost in the call and response of funny faces and baby laughs. Only the delighted laughter of the baby’s older sister broke the spell. The mother spoke; the older sister snapped to attention like a professional translator saying, “Abuela. Abuela, my sister thinks you are her Abuela,” suppressing an infectious giggle and adding, “Abuela means grandmother.” Right there in the Kroger line, some force like Jesus shook Mrs. A to her core. She heard the Holy Spirit speak, “You could be an Abuela in the church nursery every Monday at 3pm. This child’s abuela is a thousand miles away.” Her heart broke even as it was strangely warmed. Mrs. A made haste and stood in my office weeping, confessing this story, and asking if she might rock babies in the nursery every Monday. And the glory of the Lord shone around us.
“And the glory of the Lord shone round around them.” I love that verse. Wherever you are tonight, Immanuel has come, is here with us, and will keep coming into the world.
In The Universal Christ, Father Richard Rohr says, “The core message of the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is that the divine presence is here, in us, and in all of creation…. Most Catholics and Protestants still think of the Incarnation as a one-time and one-person event, having to do only with the person of Jesus of Nazareth, instead of a cosmic event that has soaked all of history in the Divine Presence…. In Jesus Christ, God’s own broad, deep, and all inclusive worldview is made available to us. As John said: The True Light that enlivens every person was coming into the world.” (1:9) We are not talking about a one-time Big Bang or a one-time Incarnation in Jesus, but an ongoing progressive movement continuing in the ever unfolding presence (of Christ in us and) all creation. Incarnation did not just happen 2000 years ago. It has been working through the entire arc of time and will continue.” Christ keeps coming to us. Christ comes every time we welcome the stranger, give sacrificially, forgive our enemies, stand for justice, and widen the circle of Christ’s love. The glory of God shines around us, whenever we open our hearts in love. Wherever you are tonight, Christ is with you. Whatever you are feeling tonight, God is longing to break into your world with love, forgiveness, and transformation.
God’s messenger came to us with beautiful caramel skin, deep brown eyes, black curly hair, and at first no words. Christ was laid humbly in a manger without adoring abuelas or attentive aunts. Wherever you are, whoever you are with or without, God is with us. Christ comes in the midst of this Covid season in every selfless act of compassion by every weary hospital worker. Christ comes to those who are physically separated from their village, quarantining alone, or staying home to keep others safe. Christ comes weeping with every tear of every hurting heart. Christ comes with each phone call we make or text we send extending God’s glad tidings of great joy to all people.
Christ comes again tonight. Do not pause to get cleaned up. Make haste. Run to the manger while still stinking of fields, sheep, goats, and your journey. Hear with Joseph God whispering in your dreams, “Do not be afraid to take a risk for love.” Come with Mary and Jesus and pray, “Here I am Lord’s servant, let it be… not what I want Lord, but your will be done on Earth as in heaven.” Come with the Magi, keep following the Star even if the palace and temple elites have no idea what God is up to! Come open your treasures, give enough to transfer your allegiance and transform your heart. Help the church in Malawi teach adults to read and have shelter from the sun and rain when they worship! Help Belmont be the church God is calling us to be in Nashville. Come join with Mary and enter into birth pains as we push something beautiful into the world. Only after Mary’s groans and gritted teeth did an exhausted Holy Mother nurse Jesus as she treasured in her heart all that God was doing around and through her. Come join with the Apostle Paul reaching out to widen the circle. Come with Charles Wesley and write new songs to inspire and teach. Come with Mother Teresa and see Christ working among people who are poor.
Come open your heart; behold Christ all around us. Come and rejoice tonight for Christ keeps coming into our world to enliven our hearts and teach us how to love. Christ still comes to open hearts and break oppressive systemic yokes. Christ is still coming to teach us the language of love. Oh, the glory of the Lord is shining around us; Christ is still breaking into our world, wherever we are tonight, whatever struggles we face tonight. Hear the good news of great joy for all people: God is with us. Amen.