From Universe to Neighborhood
Christmas Day 2008
by Anne Crawford
We’re not short of words these days. We read them, write them, hear them and speak them. We use Word Perfect to compose letters. We send text messages and check our voice mail and email. We read newspapers and then see and hear the news again on television.
We get bills and junk mail and soliciting phone calls, though mercifully we are now able to reduce two out of the three.
“The world is experiencing turbulent economic times and no one has any real answer to the problem. At the root of all this is greed and profit: traders who had to achieve targets to keep their jobs selling toxic products and mortgage lenders selling to those who they knew could not repay. An imperfect world with imperfect people.”
Brian, we all agree.
The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.
What a wonderful image Eugene Peterson gives us – God in the neighborhood!
He chose the most difficult and fragile of circumstances. A young unmarried girl who would have been stoned to death had word got out about her pregnancy in her hometown of Nazareth.
If Elizabeth had turned Mary away and if Joseph had not taken his dream seriously, God might never have been born. And if the Magi and Joseph hadn’t listened to subsequent dreams after the birth of Jesus, he would have been killed as a baby by Herod’s soldiers.
This for me is the miracle of Christ’s birth – the fact that it happened at all. Yet we know that God moves in mysterious ways among ordinary people in ordinary neighborhoods. We don’t have to understand how the Word became flesh – each baby born in a miracle and a child of God.
We need to hear that message so badly in this troubled world of ours today and guess what – we have already heard it when Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. God lived with us to show us how to live with each other. The Gospel message is that God showers his gracious love on all of us and we have received it as a free gift. This for me is the most profound miracle of all.
It is our turn now to live the Gospel message. It is our turn to ignite change for the common good. It is our turn to engage as citizens and provide the impetus for a healthy society. We are God’s hands and feet and mind and word. He has no one else in this place and at this time. We are the beautiful messengers of today.
One year I decided to think of something other than the usual gift for Mike and the inspiration came in an unusual way.
Shortly before Christmas our twelve year old son was involved in a non- league junior wrestling tournament between his school team and one sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters in their worn sneakers and sweats presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their blue and gold uniforms and new wrestling shoes.
As the match began I was alarmed to see the other team wrestling without headgear. It was a luxury they obviously couldn’t afford.
Our sons’ team took every weight class and as the other boys got up from the mat, they swaggered around with false bravado and a kind of street pride that couldn’t acknowledge defeat.
Mike was saddened. “I wish just one of them could have won. They have potential but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.”
That’s when the idea for his present came. I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church.
On Christmas Eve I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done as a gift to him from me. His radiant smile said it all and the tradition continued over the years.
One year sending a group of challenged youngster to a hockey game, another year a cheque to elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground just before Christmas.
The envelope was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning, with the children standing in wide-eyed anticipation as their Dad lifted it from the tree and revealed its contents. They grew but the envelope never lost its allure.
Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their Dad.
There is an envelope for each of you as you leave the church today. It contains a poem. You might consider reusing it if you have a tree at home, or bringing it to the tree in the parish hall. We could start a Christmas tradition in both places.