LETTERS FROM OUR RECTOR, THE REV. JIMMY GRACE-
As I write this, it is not quite yet the middle of November. Earlier today I found myself in a store in which all the Christmas decorations were already up in time for the buying season (we still have yet to take down the Halloween decorations at our home). As each year passes, it seems to me that the secular celebration of Christmas grows stronger and stronger, while the theological reason for the celebration seems to recede more and more.
What is Christmas about? At its heart, the message of Christmas is that we are not alone. We are not alone because of the child named “Emannu – El” which means “God with us.” I recall a story I heard once in a sermon years ago in which a young boy awoke from sleep in his room alone. Because it was the middle of the night, it was dark, and he was scared. He cried out, and his parents woke up, jumped out of their bed, and went to comfort the little boy.
When they asked him what was wrong, he replied, “I woke up in here alone and was scared.” His mother replied, saying, “Sweetheart, you know that you are never alone, because God is always with you.” “I know that,” said the boy, “but right now I really need someone with skin.”
The celebration of Christmas a celebration that God came to us – with skin on – in the form of an infant child. In the church, the proper name for Christmas is the “Feast of the Incarnation.” Incarnation is a word that simply means to take on human flesh; or in the young boy’s words from the story, for God to put skin on. The Incarnation of Jesus is God’s overwhelming identification with everything about being human.
In Jesus we meet a God who is not distant or aloof, but really with us. While Jesus died many years ago, our faith teaches us that through his resurrection he continues to be present with us every moment of our life. When we gather for Holy Eucharist at St. Andrew’s, Christ is present. When we pray in our homes, Christ is present with us.
This is the real gift of Incarnation: that Jesus clothes his divinity in humanity, in order to teach all of humanity true divinity. Christ is with us, in us, before us, and all around us. This is the holy mystery of Incarnation, and it is God’s greatest gift to us. But we bear a responsibility with this gift – it is one we must share with the world.
My prayer for this Christmas season is that we will reach out into the world, making it a better and blessed place because that is what Incarnation is all about. Several days ago a father who attended St. Andrew’s one Sunday morning with his family shared with me a wonderful story. It was a Baptism Sunday, and the service was running long, and one of his children began to make noise in the pew. He got up with his child, to take him into the narthex, so as not to disrupt the service. But a member of our parish sitting next to the father said “It’s okay, no one here cares about the noise.” What a gift this member of our parish was able to share with this father! What a heaven-filled moment. When I heard that story, I immediately saw Jesus in that kind member who offered words of comfort to a nervous father. That is the Incarnation, and St. Andrew’s is a church where Jesus is alive and well.
The point of this story is that 1) noisy children are ALWAYS welcome in our church, but more importantly; 2) Jesus is present in our congregation – a congregation of love, compassion, and humility. And for that gift this Christmas, I give deep and profound thanks, that we are not alone, for God is always with us.
I wish you all a holy season of Christmas!