"And the Word became flesh and lived among us..." --The Gospel of John 1:14
"...and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, 'God is with us.'" --The Gospel of Matthew 1:23
"...gather us in all peoples together, fire of love in our flesh and our bone." --From the song "Gather Us In" by Marty Haugen
A few days ago I spent an hour ringing a bell for the Salvation Army kettle drive. This is the red kettle seen outside of stores in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I was out in front of our local WalMart, ringing the bell, wishing passersby Merry Christmas--especially the children who shyly came up to drop coins in the bucket. A confession: I really do not enjoy standing for an hour and ringing the bell. It isn't hard or anything like that--it's just downright boring. This year was no different, but as I watched people come and go from WalMart, I began to marvel at something. I noticed all kinds of people going by--some old, some young. Everyone was dressed differently--some in clothes that were fashionable, some in mud-spattered work clothes, others in clothing that verged on being downright shabby. A man who was missing a leg went by in a wheel chair. I saw large bodies and thin bodies, tall bodies and short bodies. On faces, I saw strain and weariness and--in some cases--smiles. I saw tattoos and piercings and wild hair.
And then I began to "look" deeper, pondering what each person passing by must have done and experienced and felt in their life--joy, grief, anger, anxiety, love, desperation, triumph, abuse, failure, success, goodness, honesty, fear...and on and on.
As this river of humanity kept passing me by, all while ringing the little bell in my hand, I began to feel overwhelmed, but in a good way. In an awe-inspiring way. I was being moved to marvel at that incredible goodness of God. I was simply overwhelmed by the fact that at Christmas we celebrate God's embrace of all humanity in its infinite diversity and difference (and this after just one hour outside WalMart in little Dallas, Oregon!). The birth of Jesus is God's YES to humanity, God's "Yes, I DO choose to come to you--right where you are. And my promise is that in Jesus I will lead you out of the wilderness and back onto the path that is abundant life."
A couple of days later, I saw one of the most spectacular rainbows I have ever seen. It was blazing in the northwest sky, the colors almost shining brighter than the sun. And as I thought of all the ways human beings have gone so terribly astray over the eons, it occurred to me that this rainbow was an incredibly appropriate Christmas symbol. (Perhaps we should hang them as Christmas tree ornaments!) The rainbow is a sign of God's promise never to destroy the earth again (go back and read the Noah story in Genesis). Instead, what we celebrate at Christmas is that God comes not to destroy this muddled, messy, mixed-up world, but to enter into it and renew it through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Who is coming soon and very soon. Praise God!
Merry Christmas to you all,