Saturday, December 24, 2016

"We Belong to Each Other"

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve
Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 97
Titus 3:4-7
Luke 2:1-20

“We Belong to Each Other”
            Merry Christmas!
            It is so good to be here, so good to see the church looking so beautiful, so good to hear all of this fantastic music, so good to hear the Christmas story, a story of God with us in and through a newborn child, a story that, no matter how many times we hear it, still captures our imaginations and moves our hearts.
            It is so good to be together.
            Over the past few weeks, as I’ve prepared for Christmas, I’ve been reflecting on how Jesus was born into community.
            At the very start, as we heard tonight, this community was tiny.
            At first, Jesus’ community was just two people, Mary and Joseph, two seemingly ordinary people, a Jewish man and woman living in a blood-soaked land ruled by a mighty and brutal empire, two people swept up into the events of their day, driven from their home, at least for a time, because of the whims of a faraway emperor.
            At first, Jesus’ community was just two people, Mary and Joseph, two seemingly ordinary people, unable to provide proper shelter for their newborn child, forced to place the precious baby in a manger, the pretty word we say for a feeding trough used by animals.
            At first, Jesus’ community was just two people, Mary and Joseph, who were faithful enough and brave enough to trust God’s dream, and welcome Jesus into the world.
            At first Jesus’ community was small, but it didn’t stay small for long.
            As we were reminded in tonight’s gospel reading, shepherds visited the newborn Jesus, surrounding him from the start with hardworking and seemingly ordinary people who were open to God’s surprises.
            And then, Jesus grew up as part of a community in Nazareth, a small town where life was hard and, by necessity, people had to look out for each other.
            It was a place where the rhythm of life was shaped by the seasons and the religious calendar, shaped by hearing God’s Word in the synagogue, shaped by the desire to keep God’s Law with great faithfulness.
            Jesus was born into community – and grew up in community.
            And then, later, he left home and took up his ministry, preaching peace, healing the sick, offering love to the unloved, and proclaiming that the kingdom of God had come near.
            You know, for some reason, many of us tend to think of Jesus as a loner, striking out on his own, spending a lot of time off by himself, deep in prayer with his Father.
            But, while the gospels do tell us that Jesus was a man of prayer, the reality is that Jesus spent the years of his ministry building and leading community.
            Jesus spent the years of his ministry surrounded by people, welcoming all kinds of people, attracting a ragtag group of followers who wanted to spend time with Jesus because he had Good News, because he was Good News, a bunch of fishermen and tax collectors and women and even the occasional Pharisee who all enjoyed eating and drinking with Jesus, listening to his stories - a community that just loved being with Jesus, even when they didn’t understand him so much.
            Jesus built community, lived in community, a community that was open to all.
            Unfortunately, at what seemed like the end of the story, the community pretty much failed Jesus, betraying, abandoning, and denying him.
            But, at the first Easter, the Jesus community reassembled – and has been reassembling and growing ever since, telling and retelling his stories, gathering around the table, reunited with the Risen Jesus in the bread and the wine.
            Jesus our brother was born into community, grew up in community, built community, lived in community, and lives on in community, right here and right now.
            And, of course! Of course, because this is what we’re made for. It’s how we’re built.
            We are meant to live in community, in community with each other, in community with Jesus.
            It is so good to be together.
            But, you know, today many of us seem to have forgotten this, retreating into our own little worlds, where only we can hear the music streaming from our headphones, where only we can see the words and images on our screens, where we don’t really talk or listen to each other, where we spend our time only with people who live and look and think like us.
            We’ve retreated into our own little worlds and so, no surprise, we don’t really know each other anymore.
            And, predictably, since we don’t know each other anymore, we’ve become frightened of each other, assumed the worst about each other, grown to resent and, yes, sometimes, even hate each other.
            Out in our country and in the world, the shadows have grown dark, and fear, fury, and violence are on the loose.
            We’ve lost our way.
            All of this reminds me of a quote from Mother Teresa of Calcutta who famously said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
            “We have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
            So, after a year of bitterness, anger, and division, and now as we face an uncertain future, maybe this Christmas can be a reminder that we belong to God, and we belong to each other.
            Maybe this Christmas can be the start of a return to community.
            Maybe this Christmas can be the start, maybe just a small start, but the start of a return to community, community where we look out for each other, where we enjoy each other’s company, where we hear each other’s music, where we actually listen and talk to people who see things differently, even if that means we agree to disagree.
            Maybe this Christmas really can be the start of a return to community, community where we rediscover what we know in our hearts: that we are meant for each other – a return to community where we rediscover God, who’s been there, been here, all along.
            Maybe this Christmas really can be the start of a return to community – community, where, like Mary and Joseph long ago, we love Jesus by caring for the weakest and most defenseless, by giving to people who can’t pay us back.
            Let’s return to community, because as Christmas reminds us:
            Jesus is born in community.
            We belong to each other.
            And, it is so good to be together.
            Merry Christmas to you all!