My parents live on the beach in Amelia Island, Florida. One of their guest bedrooms has a balcony that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. Being one of eight children, it is a rare treat when I land in that bedroom for a couple of days.
When I am in the front guest room, I get up early and make my coffee, traipse back up the stairs to the balcony, wrapped in a blanket, and silently sip my brew as I await God’s show.
I peer out at the darkness that covers the face of the deep. As many times as I have seen it, I am always enlivened by the first indication that a new day is dawning, when the dark, grey sky above the water is slowly transformed by shards of pinks and oranges. Moment by moment the show intensifies until a tiny semi-circle of yellow makes its way on the horizon.
The hint of yellow becomes larger and more intense. And then, within minutes, the oranges and pinks are gone, the sun is up over the horizon and a new day has begun.
There are times when I go to visit my parents when sadly, the show never materializes. There are times when storms roll in and I might catch glimpses of the sun behind the clouds, but the radiant sunrise I have come to treasure is denied me.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1)
God’s word spoke light into being.
In the very first verse of the very first chapter of our sacred texts we learn that God’s word is a mighty and creative force. We learn, says Gail O’Day, that “Light was the first gift of creation.” (The Word Disclosed Preaching John’s Gospel, p.22)
And this light provided crops and warmth and life. And the people of Israel loved their God and forgot their God and they returned to their God. And they loved their God and they forgot their God and they returned to their God.
And their God was always with them, even though they did not always feel that God was present, even though they did not always trust that God was there. Ultimately, God donned human flesh to live among the people so that we might better know God, and so that we might better follow God.
Patristic Father, Athanasius famously proclaimed, “God became man so that man might become God.” (On The Incarnation)
Does that sound heretical to you? It did to me the first time I heard it.
Only God could become God. And yet Athanasius was widely quoted in the early church. Martin Luther referred to this saying (Theolgia Germania), It is even deemed doctrine in Roman Catholic Catechism and Protestant hymns (Wesley).
Most important, it is scripturally sound. In John 17 we learn, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
After all of the attempts to pierce the human heart, in the face of our remembering and forgetting, God became human so that human beings might become God.
The same God who spoke light into being. The Same God who donned human flesh. The same God who is the light that shines in the darkness. That same God, Spoke each and every one of us into being. Like the sun was spoken into being to provide warmth and light, each of us was created for a purpose.
That purpose is to work toward union with God and carry the light of Christ into this world.
Christmas is not a season, it is a way of being. Howard Thurman’s poem “The Work of Christmas” speaks to this truth:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
The love of Christ transforms us—makes us better, makes us want to be better, and it transforms those around us. If we have felt the light of Christ in our own lives—we are to shine it upon all who are around us.
We have an inspiring example of this in our own community. Remember Kay our deacon-in-training from last summer? She has created a “warming station” at Grace Episcopal Church in Woodlawn.
Kay is spending her Christmas vacation recruiting and staffing a 24 hour place of warmth, food, and respite for homeless people to get out of the cold.
Kay and her volunteers carry the light of Christ.
Birmingham lost a giant this past week when Judy Bridgers died. Judy and her late husband, Bill, who was the founding Dean of UAB’s School of Public Health, were known for their generosity and gracious hospitality, especially to those of us in need of extra care.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s when HIV/AIDS patients were being shunned by families and churches, Judy and Bill opened their home to them and she tended them in their dying days.
I have benefitted from others shining the light of Christ in my own life. There was a time when I found forgiveness elusive and the hardening of my heart negatively impacted those around me. Additionally, deep grief had a way of making me feel as if I was sitting on my parents’ balcony enduring an endless storm.
I found no solace in any of my usual places of comfort. Finally, I sought help and shards of the light shone upon me in the form of a Christian grief counselor. I felt the warmth of the sun in a Buddhist teacher who compelled me to go home to Christianity, and furthermore, he instructed me to go deeply in following the ways of Jesus.
But the full radiance of the sun shone upon me in the unconditional love of my husband, Malcolm. I was hesitant to return to Christianity for a host of reasons. I was turned off by some of what I had experienced and heard and read from some who claimed the mantle of Jesus. I had been hurt by a denomination that treated women as second class citizens.
While I struggled with all of this, Malcolm simply loved me. He loved me unconditionally. I watched the way he generously loved other people too—especially people on the margins, the untouchables-people with HIV, people who were mentally ill, people who were homeless.
The light shone in the darkness of my heart and I found a Christianity I wanted to be a part of. The light shone in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
I love Christmas as much as anyone—the music, the food, the laughter and tears with family. And in all that we have laid upon this mystical, magical time we are to remember most of all:
God became human so human beings might become God.
We have a choice, do we receive or reject the light?
I want to take a moment to speak to those of us who may be experiencing a stormy time in our lives. I know that it feels cold and it feels dark. It can be particularly painful to be feeling this way when it seems as if the rest of the world is wrapped in joy. I promise you, even if you cannot see it; even if you cannot feel it—there is warmth beyond the clouds. Seek out someone you trust to help shine that light for you.
And for those of us who feel bathed in the glow of Christ’s love, I have a challenge for us-share it. Love others unconditionally. Be generous. Give away more than you think you can afford in time and love and resources.
At every Rite 1 Eucharist we claim, “All things come of Thee or Lord. And of thine own have we given thee.” All this love, all of this light is not ours to hoard, but to share. Malcolm and I both give our parents great credit for shining Jesus’ light on us and on others.
Who has shone the light for you?
How are you or can you carry this light to the lost, or the broken, or the hungry, or the prisoner? How are you, how are WE participating in rebuilding communities, bringing peace, making music in hearts?
In the beginning God created light, God became light, we are to be light. Amen