It is Christmas time and I’ve traveled into the mountains to see my son, no longer a child but a man, a husband and father, with a son and daughter of his own and a dear wife. It is Christmas, or nearing Christmas, this fourth Sunday in Advent, and I am grateful for this mysterious reunion.
While it is said we do not choose our family, even so it might also be said that our family is chosen for us – that God in his infinite mercy balances our waywardness with other personalities, temperaments, and habits that become part of our family. In the crucible of family we forge who we are, who we are meant to be. We learn to love, and in the process we learn love’s definition. We learn to be forgiven and to forgive.
Sometimes family is biological, sometimes not. Family are the folks to whom we are bound, whether it be genes, faith, proximity. Family are those folks who God places in our path in each and every moment.
And so we approach the moment of Christ’s birth, that child in Bethlehem…In the beginning was the Word and the Word was made flesh… and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
I find myself this fourth Sunday in Advent, the Year of Our Lord 2012, in Boulder, Colorado. It is dry, but today cold winds rose, sweeping the streets and battering the walls and windows and biting our cheeks as we walked the two blocks to church. We attended a Presbyterian Church, the denomination of my childhood, the church of my pastor-father. The large brick edifice encompassed the full block, it seemed, growing from a historic chapel to meet the needs of a growing community searching for God. We entered the lobby – large and high with a giant decorated fir in the center. Crowds mingled, lingering or arriving, dropping off children in classrooms upstairs and pulling identification tags from computer screens. We stepped into the sanctuary (nave as the Catholics say), a theater that surrounded a stage. Soon the area was packed with worshipers, many like myself, coming from afar – either coming home or visiting family in their homes. There were twinkling wreathes along the walls. The dais was covered with thick candles flaming. Stage left three purple candles and one pink formed a circle high upon a brass pedestal. Three burned brightly. The fourth waited for the ceremonial moment of lighting.
The service began – O, Come All Ye Faithful… Hark: The Herald Angels Sing… we affirmed the Creed, sang the Gloria, all familiar to this Anglo-Catholic. The remaining purple candle was lit. The preacher stood in the center of the stage and preached on the first verses of John, In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…
There were no kneelers on which to kneel in prayer. We sat, heads bowed, hands clasped. There was no Holy Eucharist celebrated. But even so I knew that I worshiped the same God of Abraham, the God of all Christians, the God of these Presbyterians, the God of my own Anglicans. We shared the glorious belief that the Word – the Second Person of the Trinity – had always been in existence, but in time he became flesh and dwelt among us, this Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, who healed and cast out demons and walked on water. This God who humbled himself to be born in the hay among the animals in a cave outside the village of Bethlehem.
Why did he have to come to us like this? the preacher asked. To lead us, he answered. But he could have added that he came to take us with him. He came to join our flesh with his, to, in a sense, reverse the incarnation, to pull us into him, into him and up and to heaven, to sing with the angels and worship the Father. For of course, the Incarnation is the beginning of the great redemption realized in the Resurrection, a resurrection made real from that moment in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb to the hour of each of our own deaths and resurrections. For, those who believe in him will be resurrected with him. That is why he came to us.
Just so, we forge words, sentences, love letters with our families and and all those we find in our path through life. We are given each of them so that we may learn what love is.
My family is like most families, I think. Some get along better than others. There are moments of frustration, impatience, and there are moments of wonder and delight. There are moments of simple exhaustion and sometimes selfishness. So it was good to worship together today, sitting side by side in the pew and giving this time to one another and to God. We formed a bonding triangle with God, and as we move through the next few days to the great Festival of Christmas, this love will mold us to be better than we are now. We sang together, we prayed together, we stated our belief together as we stood side by side in the pew. We listened to the preacher speak of the remarkable Word made flesh, dwelling among us, full of grace and truth.
The Word made flesh, dwelling among us. He came to down, he pulls us together, he brings us back up with him.
And so we look forward to Christmas Day, when we shall have great and glorious reason to make merry!