Monday, December 7, 2009

Away in a Manger

Even before Thanksgiving, (November 26th for you non-Yanks), I've noticed Christmas advertizements appearing in the shops, and Christmas music on the radio. And with each passing year, this strikes me as "odd"and "amazing". None of this of course, has anything to do with the "real" meaning of Christmas, and it makes me realize just how unChristian the dominent culture has become.

Nor is this fact lost, with each passing Sunday in Advent, as we begin to wait and look for the coming of Christ. It has always struck me as wonderful, that the Son of God, would enter into human existence in a way and shape that would confound even the religious experts of past and present. No one ever expected it to go down the way it did. Let's call it the Divine fakeout! Where many were looking in one place, and in one way, God decided to enter human history in a most gentle and unprentious fashion where people least expected, and bearly without notice. In the form of a baby. We have a homeless shelter in Honolulu called The Institute for Human Services (which was started by an Episcopal priest, Claude Duteil) and I have often stated from the pulpit, that if Christ were born today, it would probably be in a place like that. Where people least expect, and off the beaten track. Oh, the scandal of it all!

Off the beaten track! This is a familiar theme to us in the Celtic tradition! We know perhaps better than any, that it is on unfamiliar soil where God usually does something amazing. This is why so many of the Celts originally left their comfortable and familiar environments. And where our culture worships at the altar of commerce, buying and selling, I feel most privledged to be in a position to serve each Sunday, to see God in the faces of strangers, who often ask me for something as simple of water, an extra piece of bread, or some socks to wear. And I am happy to oblige as best I can, as well as the many volunteers, who join us each Sunday.

What I'm trying to say, is that it's a good thing to get out and move from what we are familiar with, and to do something different, thereby gaining a fresh perspective. This seems to be one of the implications of the incarnation. Here again, we can also use the example of the many Celtic saints who so willingly left what was familiar and known to them, because they knew that such moves, would cause them to grow. And that's the way it is in the spiritual life. The gospel of Christ is counter-cultural, so such "steps of faith" are to be expected. They are probably even necessary if we want to live the Christian experience. This is important, as most of the cultural drift is secular, and moving AWAY from the Christian tradition. In sharp contrast to the culture of success we see dominant today, the Christian and Celtic tradition stresses the notion of finding God where we often least expect, often on the edges of our culture, in the face of the poor, or the stranger, or welcoming others, and making people feel as guests. To do these simple deeds, is a great way to practice Christian spirituality and discipleship. This is the true meaning of Christmas.

As we move through the season of Advent, let us remember the miracle of the Christmas story. It's not that there are sales of Walmart or Costco, though those things are not bad in themselves. Hey, I love shopping there too! Rather, the real miracle, is that God has decided to come to us in a way that none of us could ever expected or comprehend, as a vulnerable baby, born homeless in a manger in a barn. Likewise, I believe God can come to us in the same way today, in a shape and perspective that we least expect: in serving our neighbor, and looking out for those in need.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful post! Thank you for sharing.. and I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiment that if Jesus were to be born today, it would be someplace unexpected like IHS. The last shall be first...

    Thank you for mentioning that in your sermons. What church are you at?