Rev. Dr. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, Westworth United Church, Christmas Day, December 25, 2016
Isaiah 52:7-10; John 1:1-14
John begins his gospel not with the birth narrative but with the story of John the Baptist who prepared the way for the Word, or Logos, the divine principle of reason, to become flesh. In other words, God incarnate in a human being. Today we celebrate not simply the birth of Jesus, but the birth of God in human form. We celebrate not only the birth of the historic Jesus, but also the birth and rebirth of Christ in us today.
So what does this mean to us? First this is a time of celebration when church bells toll with gladness. Apparently we used to have a church bell on the tower—Ken showed it to me just the other day. Does anyone remember it? When did it sound?
The reading from Isaiah talks about the end of Jerusalem’s oppression. The war is over. The exiles are returning. Messengers are running to tell people the good news that a time of shalom is coming. Shalom means wholeness and health as well as peace. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces shalom, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’ ” This was incredibly good news for the Israelites and they broke out in celebration with songs of praise.
This passage has traditionally been used in Christian churches to celebrate the good news of Jesus’ birth. We become the messengers who spread good news of joy to others and we break out in feasting & carolling.
It doesn’t mean that this is an easy time of celebration—for many Christmas is not easy. But it may be possible through Christ to sing ourselves into joy. Max Beerbohm wrote a story in 1915 called The Happy Hypocrite. He described a ruffian who put on the mask of a saint in order to woo a devout young woman. He succeeded and they married. A few years later, he ran into some of his former friends who decided to unmask him and reveal his true character as that of a hypocrite. When they tore the mask off his face, they were amazed to discover that his face had conformed to the mask. He had taken on the visage of a saint whom he had tried so hard to become. He acted himself into a new way of being. Christ living in us gives us the strength and courage to become a new person in Christ.
And that leads us to the second implication of God’s incarnation. We become God’s body—we are literally Christ’s hands and feet. The M & P Committee gave all staff a Christmas gift of this picture, with the words, “you are Christ’s hands and feet” written underneath. It helps all of us as staff to keep our Church’s Mission statement in front of us and to remember that we are all servants of Christ, offering ourselves for God’s mission.
We are also reminded to welcome others as if they are Christ. Isaiah talks about sentinels lifting up their voices and singing for joy, because they see God returning to Jerusalem. Perhaps we are called to be sentinels, ever alert to signs of God’s reign breaking into the world. A few days ago, there was a picture on the front page of the Free Press of someone in whom I have seen Christ’s love shining through. I met Gordon at Oak Table many years, before his hair started turning grey. He has a soft voice with interesting stories to tell. He’s from Sagkeeng First Nation and moved to Winnipeg when he was 7. But he always craved to live out in the bush where he had fire and water and could make a shelter. That’s where he still lives, homeless, in the middle of Winnipeg, although it’s much more difficult for him in the city than it was on the land. I remember him as someone others looked up to. He is a wise elder amongst the younger homeless people and he often mediates conflict.One day in the summer, he saw a young white man, about 20 years old, help an older indigenous woman on the bus. Gordon said that he studied the young man’s face intently to remember him because if he ever saw him again, and if this young man ever needed any help, Gordon would “give him whatever life I had.” Gordon explained, “I saw heaven in that action. It made me feel good. It gave me a little bit of hope.”
I’ve seen a little bit of heaven in Gordon. When we can recognize God’s
incarnation in others, we welcome God into our own lives. Let’s spend a moment of silence recalling times when you have seen God in others…wold any of you like to share a story?
Richard Rohr writes, “Love is caught more than taught.” We are inspired more by people we see living love, than by books or ideas or even sermons. How beautiful are the feet and hands of those who bear Christ’s love. Amen.
 Jen Zoratti, “Frozen Fingers, warm hearts,” Winnipeg Free Press, Monday, December 19, 2016, B1 & 3.