First Sunday after Christmas
The Rev. Carissa Baldwin-McGinnis
Merry Christmas! Even in Big City, Texas is it appropriate to say, “Merry Christmas, Ya’ll!”
The ‘Merry Christmas’ part of “Merry Christmas, Ya’ll!” is self-explanatory. The question I would propose to reflect on today, is who do we mean by ‘Ya’ll’? For whom do we intend the wish of profound spiritual merriment that is conveyed by this familiar phrase?
It is a question for the church today as it has been since the time of Apostle Paul’s missionary work. Who is our ‘ya’ll’, worthy of so much good spiritual news?
Bob Ekblad in his book “Reading the Bible with the Damned” writes about the church’s challenge of bringing good news to those labeled as poor, ex-cons, illegals, homeless, underprivileged, disabled, white trash, street workers, Mexicans, disenfranchised and more. Eckblad who ministered in Southern Honduras and county jails in Washington state, explains that the mainstream church has a hard time doing so, because we are overly identified with the mainstream and the protection of the status quo. But what would it mean to read the Bible with the damned?
It is about offering a word of forgiveness, hope and compassion. It means shedding the universal human tendency to categorize, and instead listen to other people’s stories. The risk of listening is that our own stories will want more and more to be heard such that we are likely to discover that we are more broken than we wanted to admit.
In my case, for example, I am just now learning as a parent learning the importance of the apology. I did not grow up in a family that had the culture or tradition of apologies so much as a preference for acceptance and moving on. But I can see now the gains of the rite or ritual of apologizing – of giving the offended the gift of being seen while acknowledging the slight or harm that came to them; of seeing the impact of my on behavior of those around me in a way that does not take place without the slowing down to recognize and retelling. Apologies clear the deck and yield reconciliation, and they also create a rich, scarce and much needed byproduct for our time which is intimacy.
What the Apostle Paul understood that Ekblad understands that we are all knowing but not want to admit is that all of us - even those of us who live in the comfortable bubble of the mainstream of today’s culture - we are all ‘the damned’.
Paul did in his day just what Ekblad has done in rural Southern Honduras and in a county jail in Washington state. He brought good news to a Roman world beyond Jerusalem about a God with compassion, forgiveness and hope. Resurrection and a hope for the saints and martyrs to be restored was also important for Paul. But Paul offered an image almost more powerful in the timeline of life lived on earth. It is the image of the holy or cosmological family.
He offers a God known as a loving Father who has sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts. We have received adoption as God’s children, he announced. Therefore, we are offered a kinship with Christ and the creator that unites and reunites in the form of Church.
Ours is to be a family that knows how to apologize and that offers compassion, love and hope. A family built on faith over and above any cultural, legal, religious or geographic distinction. For he taught us that faith allows such holy currencies of love and hope to flow. Ours is a family not led by priests but headed by the Creator.
Father Greg Boyle, Founder of Homeboy Industries, Original Priest bringing good news of Jesus to a multitude of home boys and girls in Los Angeles reminds us in every story he tells of the nature of the kinship Paul describes. Amid the stories about the men and women he serves, Boyle inserts a poem by Hafez. I share it now because it speaks to the longing the church must live into if we are going to read the Bible with the damned who is everyone including ourselves.
With That Moon Language
Everyone you see, you say to them,
Of course you do not do this out loud;
Someone would call the cops.
Still though, think about this,
This great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one
Who lives with a full moon in each eye
That is always saying
With that sweet moon
What every other eye in this world
Is dying to
I share it know because the images speak to the longing the church must live into if we are going to read the Bible with the damned who is everyone including ourselves. Merry Christmas, Ya’ll. The news is and always has been good.