The readings for this coming Sunday in the Episcopal Church are:
These are some… interesting…. readings this week. The Isaiah reading is chock-full of names and references that were very meaningful to the people living in this place at this time, but that probably sail right over our heads today. I’m not a biblical scholar, by any stretch of the imagination, and while I’d love to be able to have the time to do that some day, that’s not where I am right now. So I’ll sail past most of this, and focus on the one passage that really sang for me: Hear then, O house of David! We hear this in the psalm, too: Hear, O Shepherd of Israel! The reading from the letter to the Romans is the greeting, the opening, and though these words are not used, it says the same thing: Hear me! Hear God! And in the gospel lesson, we have an angel speaking to Joseph in a dream. Pay attention to me – listen to me here, Joe.
So this week, we have been given an invitation in these readings. Hear. Listen. Pay attention. God is at work in the world. And you can be part of it! The challenge is… we don’t know where God is going to be. (Okay, smart aleck answer: absolutely everywhere.)
The thing about Christmas is that, well, it is utterly preposterous. God is taking us completely by surprise here. Tell me the truth: if you were an omnipotent being, with full and complete knowledge and wisdom and understanding, and the ability to do whatever you wanted, would you choose to become a human being? Would you choose to be born into this world as a completely helpless infant, unable to do anything for yourself, relying one hundred percent on the love of these flawed and broken and unlovely humans? Would you choose to be born in poverty? In a stable? In a time without nice, sterile hospitals and good drugs and all the benefits of modern medicine? Would you choose to subject yourself to pain, to anger, to frustration? To indigestion and toothaches and hangnails and stubbed toes and fleas and lice and gas? (Um, yes. It is a certainty that Jesus farted. Just as Jesus peed and pooped and did every other thing that humans do. This is what it means to be human, even if you are God.) Who would expect this?
Well, we do – those of us who choose to be Christians. And it came – comes! – as a surprise. This is why we need the invitation, the reminder to Hear!, to Listen up!, to Pay attention! Because we don’t know what Jesus will look like when he is here, and it’s a no-brainer that Jesus will show up in the most completely unexpected form – quite possibly the most offensive form to me or to you that he could possibly take. Yes, Jesus could well be Archbishop Akinola, or Bishop Robinson, or Osama bin Laden, or Timothy McVeigh, or Britney Spears, or Bill Gates, or Michael Vick, or Jane Fonda, or your ex-wife, or Vice President Cheney, or even that crazy lady who walks around with a shopping cart full of tattered clothes and empty soda cans, talking to herself and shouting at passersby. Jesus could be the African child whose parents have died from AIDS. Or Jesus could be Pat Robertson. This is why we have to Listen!, to Hear!
At Christmas, we celebrate Jesus being born into this world. Literally born – from the womb of a young woman who was probably terrified. And at this time, we have an opportunity to give birth to Jesus ourselves, spiritually, symbolically – because it’s a no-brainer that you or I are the most completely unexpected form that Jesus could take for somebody.
So as you Hear! for Jesus in the world around you, I think we are also invited to Listen! for Jesus within ourselves, too. What is the part of me that is a frightened young woman who is struggling to give birth to a savior? What is the part of you that is fertile, great with child? Can we, as the readings from Isaiah invited us earlier this Advent, make the ways straight for this birth to take place? Can we level the mountains to make room for Jesus, who will bring water to our dry places? And what will this Jesus be like, the Jesus who wants to be born from me, from you?
I think the key to all of this is that when we Hear!, when we listen up and pay attention, we find that Jesus is Emmanuel. God with us.
God is with us.
God wants to be with us.
God chooses to be with us.
The psalmist asks God to show us the light of God’s countenance, so that we can be saved. And God has. Jesus is the light of God’s countenance. Jesus lived, here on this earth with us. And Jesus lives here still: God with us. Emmanuel.
So my prayer for you this week, is that you will Hear! Listen up! Pay attention! God is at work in the world, and you can be part of it. And I pray that when you listen, you will hear, and you will know that God is good, that you are loved, and that Jesus is indeed Emmanuel.