Monday, 21 December 2009 19:26

December 20, 2009 Sermon

“Rivers of Love”
Micah 5:2-5a
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
December 20, 2009
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

I don’t know about you, but when I heard the stories about the prayer shawls, I felt that river of love flow through me.  All of that thanks, all of that pain, all of that healing, all of that grasping at the void with nothing more than presence in the form of prayers offered on behalf of someone unknown or a soft piece of stitched cloth holding us in the dark when we feel so alone and desperate.  It buoys us and sustains us.

When God came into the world in the form of a child, it was God’s way of groping in the dark too.  God was reaching out to us offering us a living breathing prayer that we might embrace life, embrace the earth, embrace each other.  If we did all of that, then maybe we would embrace God too.  And so, God knit the life of Jesus so that we might believe that we were not alone—so that when we grasped out in the dark, we might find something, someone to hold on to.

God looked at the fabric at hand.  And God chose wisely.  First, God needed a little purple.  God needed to have the litany and legacy of the house of David.  So God found Joseph.  Joseph was of the house and lineage of King David.  Just look at the genealogies in Matthew and Luke and you’ll see.  Now, the kings weren’t ones to emulate, most of them.  I like the fact that God chose this line if for no other reason than to believe that we can redeem even the worst of family traditions.  That’s part of the good news of Christmas.  We all get a new chance and we don’t have to be defined by our family of origin.  We can take the very best that we have been given and choose to distance ourselves from whatever toxic brew clouds our past.  I like to think that Joseph brought the best of his legacy to the family.

Then God chose a bit of blue.  God remembered the water that was at the source, the great deep out of which creation began.  God remembered the four rivers that flowed out of Eden.  God looked and saw the river Jordan nearby where redemptive things would occur.  Then God saw Mary.  God saw in her, innocence, devotion, hope, love and peace. Mary reminded God of Hannah, the mother of Samuel.  Indeed, when Mary sang her song it was a paraphrase of Hannah’s song.  And Mary’s song was not a shrinking violet song.  It was a triumphant song of audacious justice and it proclaimed a re-ordering of the world.  She said that her soul magnified God.  It put God under a microscope and laid bare all of the beauty and flaws of the divine: God in high definition.  That was what Mary saw in herself.

Then God chose browns and grays.  These are colors of the streets; the colors of dirt and dung, and also the color of beautiful skin.   Jesus came in flesh and blood just on the edge of Africa.  His skin and hair color were likely brown and black.  We know from the story that the family into which Jesus was born was homeless.  But more than that, they were ostracized—relegated to the indignity of sharing a bed with farm animals.  Why would they seek an Inn in their ancestral hometown?  The only plausible reason for that is that their family rejected them.  If that has ever happened to you, remember that God came into the world in just such a circumstance.

There was also some red around.  Red is the color that depicts the Spirit of God.  But there is a more earthly aspect of it.   Red represents the threat that the coming of God brought.  It was not long until Herod decided to kill all of the children in the hopes of destroying the one who threatened him.  The blood of the slaughter of the innocents is a reminder of the temptation that comes with positions of privilege.  It is the temptation to use brutal force to get your way—be that by the hand of the sword, or the pen.  Violence is rampant and dangerous.  It is into this world that Jesus came.  We remember this as we see all of the Christmas red.

The white and gold symbolize the sun and clouds and stars and fire.  God lead the people in the desert as a white pillar of cloud by day and a gold pillar of fire by night.  We think of the angels that bring good news.  We think of the fact that the message came to shepherds abiding in their fields keeping watch over their flocks by night.  We imagine the sky illuminated in white and gold.  Shepherds, lonely antisocial laborers were the ones entrusted with the good news.  This is no accident.  This is the cosmic re-ordering that God is about.

Micah 5:2-5a speaks of the town of Bethlehem as the place from which the Expected One shall emerge.  Micah goes to pains to point out that Bethlehem is a small town in comparison to the big metropolis of, say, Jerusalem.  This is another of the great reversals of the Bible.  God continues to come to the poor, the outcast, and the disadvantaged.  We need only look at the Nativity stories to understand this re-ordering of society.  As Jesus grew up, he echoed this theme by stating over and over again that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.   Imagine if all prayers were only offered on behalf of those who were healthy, who were successful, who had all material things they needed and were blessed with supportive family and friends.  What about the rest of us?  The Good News of the Gospel is that God looks with favor upon all of us, and has a special place in the divine heart for those of us who are struggling.  That seems to me to be supreme Good News.

Think about this: The most unloved people in the world, the ones that the world and the economy have dealt the worst hands, these are the ones to whom God comes.  God comes to us when we are at the end of our ropes, when we are hanging on to sanity by a thread.  And God knits together our lives and reminds us of divine love.

God sits in the dark, knitting needles in hand in a rocking chair and wonders what we need.  And God chooses the colors knowing before we do the challenges we will face.  And God gives us a warm blanket to cover our weary souls.

And this blanket is a blanket of love—reminding us not only that we are not alone, but that we are destined for great things.  And we can do great things and be great people just because God has seen the potential in us.

I love the Christmas celebration.  I love it more than Easter.  On Easter we have the triumph over death and the resurrection on the other side of the cross.  That is all beautiful and inspiring.

But at Christmas we have God acting in a very different way.  God is not killing people in order to wake them up.  God is not reeling from the violence of the world that killed God’s son.  God is giving us a gift because God loves us so much.  God is deciding to walk with us through the highways and byways and rivers of this life.  We receive a gift of love from a God who loves us so much that God is willing to share our journey on this earth.  And if we pay attention enough, we just might see God walking among us right now.  For we are all children of God, children of the light.  We are all those outcast and misunderstood and quirky people in need of hope and love.

This is the good news:  God loves each of us, in spite of ourselves.  There’s a great statement that Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church says each week.  They turn to a neighbor and say, “I love you.  And there’s nothing you can do about it.”  Let’s try that.  Love is a gift.  And if we nurture it just right, the gift will bring not only love, but also peace and joy and hope—all those rivers coming together in a gently watered garden of blessing.

So God is knitting, even occasionally employing a crochet hook.  God knits because God knows that we can’t do this on our own—this life thing.  We can’t live up to our fullest potential.  There will come times when the pressure and the stress and expectation and sickness and sorrow are more than we can bear.  And God knits that knowledge and pain in to the fabric as well.

And on Christmas, we receive that shawl-in-progress, unwrapping it like a gift.  It’s called God-with-us, Emmanuel.  Our task it to weave ourselves into that fabric, make it our own and then love someone else because we have been loved.  Send it downstream.  For the river of love waters the world with delight.  It’s the ultimate blanket of blessing and it’s a generous and wise gift given to us from God each Christmas.  May we embrace it.  May it keep us warm and may it remind us that we are supremely loved.