“What do you see?”
A pastor recently asked this question while observing her community living through a pandemic that none of us anticipated would ever last this long.
“What do you see?”
May I be honest with you? I see fatigue. I see lament. I see exhaustion. We never imagined that we would have to celebrate a second Christmas without gathering in person in this sanctuary. We were looking forward to the thrill of our voices blending toether in Christmas harmonies, anticipating the sacred moments of a candlelit sanctuary as we sang Silent Night, and the joy of our bodies mingling together in the narthex following the service - seeing the sparkle in one another’s eyes as we wished each other a Happy Christmas.
But circumstances change and we have to change, too.
It was the same for Mary and Joseph - Giving birth in a barn, I am sure, was not the Plan B Mary envisioned for herself.
Having door after door slammed in his face was not the reception Joseph had hoped for - was there no kindness left in the world for himself and his pregnant wife?
Circumstances forced them to accept changes they had not wished for. They did what they had to do.
And when the time came, in spite of their circumstances, they beheld the miracle of their baby being born,
their baby—fresh from the breath of God—born into their world of pain, disappointment and heartache.
And as they pondered the miracle of their baby’s birth,
they continued to ponder the words of the angels - announcing that the infinite grace and compassion of God itself was present and would continue to be present in the world through their particular baby boy, namely. Jesus of Nazareth.
When you look upon the manger scene in your mind’s eye what do you see? A sentimental story overlaid with nostalgia for Christmases past?
Or a story of a God of mercy and compassion breaking into the circumstances of our present?
Christ came in crisis. And continues to come into the crises of our world and our lives.
Our Christmas pageant this year, featured a song - “Hey, Mary” . The lyrics emphasized that God’s love and compassion came into the world by working through ordinary people like Mary and Joseph. And because God appears in human flesh - “Every life and breath is blessed” - and in that sense “there is no such thing as ordinary.” God continues to come here and now through us.
Henri Nouen writes, Through the mystery of the Incarnation - God taking on human form, “Our little stories are lifted up into God's great story and there given their unique place. The miracle of Christmas—the jaw dropping truth of Christmas—is that our daily, ordinary lives are, in fact, sacred lives that play a necessary role in the fulfillment of God's promises.”
Throughout the pandemic we have heard our chief Public Health Officer reminding us to be kind - because extending kindness to one another will help us get through this pandemic. She has been mocked for her simple counsel. And I have heard pastors say they take their counsel from the gospels and not from civil servants.
But I want to share with you a story from this morning’s paper, written by journalist Erin Anderssen. — And as you listen to it, you can decide for yourself whether acts of kindness are just ordinary things—trifle gestures—or consistent with the power of the gospel to change the world.
“Trish stood on her Calgary street, in the June sun, before the mushy husk of her basement condo. Nearly everything she owned was piled on the street like garbage – books, photographs, clothes, even her toilet. A few days earlier, she and her 18-year-old son had abandoned their home to Calgary’s flooding waters, taking the dog, but unable to capture their grumpy cat. She returned to find the place still sloshing with thigh-deep water. Her records and posters, placed high on a shelf by her quick-thinking son, were spared, along with the cat, but the rest was sunk or floating. On that summer afternoon in 2013, with the water receding to mud, a group of friends were helping her rip out what they could to prevent mould.”
“Someone placed a melting Popsicle in her hand – a delivery from another friend dealing with their own flood issues, neighbourhoods away. “A Popsicle?” she laughed, which was a gift already. She lifted her face to the warm sun, and squeezed the ice out of its white plastic.
Helicopters fluttered overhead, and emergency vehicles raced down the street.
She was covered in mud from her kitchen that might be sewage.
Her home was gone.
And she was slurping a Popsicle like a kid!
Surrounded by the devastation of her adult life, she experienced a moment of silly, childlike bliss.
Eight years later, she remembers the significance of that friend’s simple kindness still.
“She saw me, she knew me and she understood what I needed,”
“Isn’t that what we all need, to be seen?”
In pandemics and floods and fires, there are grand gestures and daring rescues that save lives, and then there are the simple kindnesses that are life-saving . . . They are the mushy Popsicles that keep us going. The moments that makes us feel like we aren’t alone.
“The Popsicle is symbolic. It says, ‘you matter enough, I saw and I felt for you, and I did something about it.’” (end of excerpt from the paper)
Our God looked down upon us and saw our quarrelling and fighting—our divisions and the cruelties we inflict on one another and did something about it. — God saw that we had forgotten who we are —and sent us a Saviour. A Saviour to remind us that “Yes,” we are flawed human beings with feet of clay, but more importantly, that we are also infused with the breath of God - made in the likeness and image of God. And if made in the image of God we are called to share in that divine life. Now, perhaps when you hear phrases like this - Sharing in the divine life - sounds lofty and ephemeral. The sound of it may be other worldly, but the doing of it is not. We share in the divine life - we become little Christs every time we see and behold the suffering of others and reach out with grace, kindness and compassion - The meaning of compassion means to suffer with, to become little Christs and enter into the suffering of others and share the grace and compassion of God with those he brings into our orbit.
Friends and siblings in Christ - when we come together in our small gatherings this Christmas season - whether looking at our family and friends across the dinner table or through a screen - as we share in our common suffering, remember to see - and then stop and be present with the gift of your attention and your listening presence.
And most of all remember that God sees you,
you are not alone.