Preacher’s Commentary: I found this sermon from 2016 recently and I’m touched by the choppy, stumbling quality of it. I had been sick with a flu bug but I also was still reeling from the election of D. Trump as president. Sadly, there are just as many devastating images of desecrated bodies in the news in Advent of 2018. If I was delivering this sermon again this year I would certainly reference the toddlers in diapers being gassed at our border. I might include beautiful young Sandra Parks dying of a gunshot wound and saying, “Mama, I’m shot.” I’m sure you can add your own simiilarly distressing examples. – VW
Delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lynn on December 18. 2016
I got hit with a flu bug this week and Thursday found me too weak to do anything but lie on the couch in a blanket and click on news articles on my iPad. I read the news most every day but not like this; not without doing anything else all day but drinking tea.
And as I clicked and read words, what I saw was bodies. What I realized with startling intensity was that everything I was reading was about human bodies locked in internal and literal combat, fighting, suffering, loving, yearning, surviving, dying.
I saw Aleppo. I watched videos sent by people who looked into the camera and asked me not to forget them, and I will not. I will not forget them. I will not forget that they were able to speak to all of us through the miracle of technology as bombs whistled through the air in the background. I know some of them may have been Islamist extremists, what we would call terrorists. Still, I will not forget them. I will not forget their eyes.
I will not forget their children who deserved a lifetime of their own.
I saw that among these bodies in crisis there was care and courage and love. And I knew that there was grace even there because there is no place where grace is not.
And I saw a judge in Texas overturning a law that required women to provide funerals for their fetuses. I saw the reproductive freedom fighters celebrating this tiny concession to the autonomy of women’s bodies. And I saw that women’s bodies were full of grace, and that they should not be subjected to government control, or anyone’s control.
I saw human bodies – Native American women, men, transpeople and youth – shivering with cold — in Standing Rock and in Flint, MI, where they had put their bodies on the line in the fight, to be able to have unpoisonous water to drink and to bathe in, and to cook with and add to their children’s oatmeal in the morning. I affirmed with them that every body – EVERY BODY — has the inalienable, basic human right to eat and drink good food and water.
I remembered the bodies of Philando Castilo and Sandra Bland and so many other people of color, loved and alive before the bullets of police officers and the travesty of the American criminal justice system laid them down forever.
And right here, in our community, I saw people lined up in the snow to be fed by soup kitchens like My Brother’s Table in Lynn, where so many of us from this church gathered yesterday. Our bodies chopped and diced and cooked and served and cleaned and poured coffee and sat and listened to other bodies, all sharing one warm room on one cold day.
I saw journalist’s bodies being handcuffed and physically removed from the North Carolina legislature for exercising their constitutional rights, and it occurred to me that it is not an accident that we use the same word for vigorous activity as we do for the practice of democracy: we exercise it.
I saw that we are in a time that will require us, as far as we are able, to bring our actual bodies to places of injustice as often as we can, because nothing makes an issue so real and so relevant as when human beings flood the scene with their incarnate, sacred presence. “Gathered here in one strong body” does not refer to muscles. It refers to soul strength.
I saw the human drama play out on a small screen from a couch and I fully encountered the power and vulnerability and sanctity of the human body and its perennial struggles. Witnesses the evil and savagery that is also part of human nature, I covered my head with a warm hat and I prayed. How easy it is to live in my head. How easy it is to worship a transcendent God and forget that the central sacred story of this season is about God wanting and choosing to be born one of us, this savage and this beautiful and this powerful and this vulnerable.
There is a book called the Five Love Languages, whose author, Gary Chapman, says the five love languages we all have are Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service And Physical Touch.
I saw most especially this past week that God’s love language is Incarnation.
Whatever our quibbles with the supernatural elements of the Christmas story, I hope our skepticism can live side by side with a reverent appreciation for why this story has mattered so profoundly to human beings across such a long period of time and has spread to so many different lands: because it is a story about God actually choosing to be in this mess with us, as one of us. not above, not observing from a cloud, but with us. Emanu -El means God with us.
As vulnerable as any of us, and more vulnerable than many of us.
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place *while Quirinius was governor of Syria.*
And everyone went to their own town to register.”
Did you notice that? Syria.
And everyone went to their own town to register. Some things never change.
I have wondered for a long time about the teaching that we are made in God’s image. What could that mean?
I have long assumed it meant that our consciousness itself, our awareness of being alive itself, is a god-like attribute. I had assumed it meant that our capacity to wonder, and to feel awe, and to care that we are alive and to love other people and creation while we are alive – I thought that was the godly thing about us.
But this week.
This week. These times. These days.
Those babies in the rubble in East Aleppo. That tiny body washed up on the shore in Turkey. The miracle of consciousness is most ungodly if we do not create and protect a world where it is accepted and honored that the holy of holies resides in all living beings.
As we live in Advent hope of the coming of that world, we must remember that the Christmas story, the “Jesus event,” as we sometimes call it, is a story about holiness being present in one child and in all bodies, but also being present in all of human experience.
Try to accept that. It is not easy.
You, and me, and our strength and aches and pains as we age – our delicate impermanence.
- our children downstairs making crafts and running around, — you, wheeling into coffee hour
- and pulling into the parking lot,
- you on your knees bathing a frail elder whom you love, and you shopping for cookie fixings,
- and you scooping up mashed potatoes on a plate and smiling at someone in the line who hasn’t had any one smile at them for days,
And you, losing your physical powers but still fiercely in love with the world and wanting to help,
And you recovering from pneumonia,
and you learning how to walk
and you having your diaper changed,
and you, asleep and waking and breathing and in every moment that the miracle of creation surges through you…
this is God’s love language.
You are the instrument.
The holiness at the heart of being that stitched you together in your mother’s womb did not leave you then and has not left you for one second since you wailed your first cry into the world.
Emanuel. God is with us. If only the world knew how to appropriately respond to that.