Bethlehem: The Epicenter

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Feast of the Incarnation

December 24, 2014

A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA

 We come together… once again… to the very epicenter of peace. This ancient story is alive to us again this night. The story of a baby born in the most humble of circumstances, to an exhausted young mother and a tired Joseph… in the muck of a stable… a child born into a world torn by pain and grief, abuses of power, discrimination and violence… This holy story of birth… of new life… and new possibility… is seeking us out… searching us… inviting us…. and challenging us to walk a better path, to live a better way and to follow the one who was born to show us the way…

This night we take great pause from our busyness as we lay down our “to do” lists and bring all of our selves… our giftedness, our wounds, our pain, our grief, our brokenness, our raw truth, our hope… to this humble place of new beginning. The time has come. Around the globe God’s beloved and heart hungry people are gathering in the glow of this night…

In our time we come to an ancient and lowly stable seeking to find rekindled meaning for our own lives and for a world that is, yet today, groaning for relief. We may also bring our questions, our doubts and our skepticism as we try to wrap our minds around this ancient story. There are many who discount the story because it cannot be “proven.” As I was working on this sermon I came across an article on-line that invited responses from readers. I particularly took note of a comment regarding Debra Dean Murphy’s article, “The Logic of the Incarnation on Christmas Day.”[1]   A woman named Stacey commented on the author and her essay:

How can it be that a professor, a scholar – a person, one would presume, at the highest level of education in their subject matter – can write about these bible stories as if they truly happened while even laymen are aware that corroboration outside of the bible, e.g. archeology and history ranges from scant to none? Not to mention “angels” or “heavenly messengers” for which no evidence (that a “scholar” ought deem acceptable) has ever been provided. Submitted by STACEY on Thu, 2014-01-02 08:53

The meaning of the Christmas story cannot be quantified and “proven.” We enter the story through the God-given gift of imagination. Though we have been given keen minds and the gift of reason, such stories defy dissection and clinical examination. No microscope, or computer algorithm, or chemical assay can reveal its true meaning. Many academics, biblical scholars, and archaeologists, have poured over texts and fragments of texts. They have used their shovels and buckets and brushes to gain more insight… and that is all to the good. This holy story, however, has a power that speaks to us in other ways. Is fact or is it fiction? The truth is that the divine call for justice and peace among all peoples is abiding and eternal. God’s longing for us has been made manifest to us in the package of a little child… who would know scraped knees, and the awkwardness of adolescence, and the challenges of coming into his adulthood. God’s desire moved beyond the abstract and has become alive for us in our own human experience that Jesus shared with us.

How can it be that a reasonable person in our day and age can entertain the story of angels and heavenly messengers let alone the birth of the holy child that we celebrate this night?

As many of you know my first career was in the field of cardiology. As a Registered Cardiovascular Technologist I examined hearts using ultrasound and Doppler technologies. I would record 2-dimensional images of heart muscle contracting and relaxing as it pumped out blood to the whole body. I would evaluate the opening and closing of heart valves and, with color flow imaging, I would view and measure blood flowing from one chamber of the heart into another, … beat after beat after beat… each contraction sending necessary oxygen and nutrients necessary for life… that endures… until the heart beats no more. The functioning of the human heart is marvelous in its design and beautiful to behold. With our modern medicine and technology we can repair hearts that are malfunctioning. We can open up clogged arteries that feed the heart. We can repair or replace damaged valves and we can correct congenital malformations… sometimes but not always. Though the practice of modern medicine can mend the physical heart, what it cannot do is mend hearts that hurt and grieve and hunger for peace and justice and belonging. For that kind of healing we need to go to another level of “knowing” that is beyond measurement even with the keenest of technologies. We cannot put these eternal and abiding truths on a scale, or determine their wavelengths, or measure their velocities. Science and technology cannot develop a pill or procedure that will mend hearts that ache with grief and hunger for hope…

Jesus has come to enter into our world and to go where love has been forgotten and where love has not yet arrived. He grew up to share meals among outcasts making them outcasts no longer. He came as a gift of love and challenged us, down through the ages, to know our belovedness… that we may also see Christ in the stranger.

I would like to share a poem by the artist Judy Chicago that speaks to me of God’s burning desire for all humankind:

Untitled Poem by Judy Chicago

 And then all that has divided us will merge

And then compassion will be wedded to power

And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind

And then both men and women will be gentle

And then both women and men will be strong

And then no person will be subject to another’s will

And then all will be rich and free and varied

And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many

And then all will share equally in the Earth’s abundance

And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old

And then all will nourish the young

And then all will cherish life’s creatures

And then all will live in harmony with each other and the Earth

And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.

Tonight the “then” has become “now”… and for this night we can feel heaven kissing the earth. We are invited to Welcome this love into our heart of hearts… the holy manifestation that is forever seeking to make itself known in our noisy and preoccupied world. A love that is seeking to mend divisions… that we may move beyond the sport of labeling and dehumanizing others… that violence and war will cease… and that we will return forever to the epicenter of peace and hope.

When [the shepherds] saw [with their own eyes and their own hearts], they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

May we go and do likewise… in our words and in our actions… in partnership with the Ancient One who cries to us once again, in the form of a baby… who invites us to the epicenter of peace… to new life, new possibility, to a new way…

God knows… and we well know… that now is the time.

The scholar Frederick Buecher has written this plea:

 “For outlandish creatures like us, on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage, Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning — not home, but the place through which we must pass if ever we are to reach home at last.”

O God, stir us up beyond what is interesting, entertaining or thoughtful.

Address our restlessness, speak to our condition, change us, inspire us…that we may participate with you in making your dream a reality… that empty bellies may be filled, that economic injustice may be righted, that sorrows may turn to joy, and that light may scatter the darkness from every corner and crevice and bring the light of God’s love to every beating heart.

Create in us change that will “burn and tremble and heal, and explode us into tears or laughter… or love that throbs or screams…*[2] and spur us to live and serve fully… as our real selves… as the people you have created us to be.

The English writer, theologian and poet G.K. Chesterton has said:

                                               “Christianity isn’t a failure; it simply hasn’t been tried yet.”

                         May we live into the promise that has been born anew…

… and let us start by be spending time at the epicenter of peace that is Bethlehem

…the place where we meet Jesus again for the first time.




[2] Adapted from a poem by Ted Loder