December 24, 2015

Church of Peace, UCC

Rev. Mariah Marlin-Warfield

Luke 2:1-20

“Here, Can You Just Take Him for A Minute?”

There is a phrase I first heard chanted in a song by the a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock. They got it from June Jordan’s “Poem for South African Women.” Political leaders have taken to invoking this phrase too; some attribute it to the activist Lisa Sullivan who worked to help those living with HIV and AIDS. So wherever it came from. Whether you’ve heard it sung on the street or read off of a teleprompter during a campaign speech, it’s still the truth.

“We are the ones… We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”[1]

It’s got such great Rosie-the-Riveter energy! It is up to us! And we can do it! How do you not feel hopeful and invigorated? This is great! It reminds me of the theory that goes, whoever shows up is exactly the group that needs to show up. We are enough. We are the ones called to be here. We’ve got this.

On the other hand. Have you seen the world lately? If we are the ones we’ve been waiting for, that’s kind of terrifying, don’t you think…

Advent is the season of waiting for our savior to come, and this year during Advent, we’ve been exploring the theme of expectation. Let’s face it, unless this is your first Christmas, we pretty much know what to expect. We hear the same scripture we hear every year. We’ll sing the same carols. It could seem like we already know how it turns out, so why go through it. Why should we even care? And if that is your question, you’re not wrong to wonder.

Also. It can be dangerous to really care. Another week. Another shooting somewhere. Another act of terrorism. How can we listen to reports on torture and not feel like throwing up…Whatever your political perspective, it is difficult to watch the news these days and not brush up against the edges where our grief and guilt get tangled up together. Of course we mean to care, but how? How can we do anything that will make a meaningful difference…

This is how I felt a few months ago when I saw the iconic photograph of Aylan Kurdi making its way around the internet. You might remember Aylan. He’s the little boy who died with his mother and sister while trying to escape Syria. He’s an actual person wearing velcro shoes, and the picture of little Aylan washed up on the shore made him into a representative for the whole refugee crisis. He’s Aylan, son of Abdullah and Rehen, please understand. And he could be anybody’s baby.

It’s no wonder we shake our heads in disgust. It’s no wonder we try to not care.

It’s no wonder we spend significant time watching videos of kittens who get things stuck on their heads by mistake. Thank God for those cat videos!

It’s no wonder we come to church on Christmas Eve looking for the promise that it’s all going to be okay. Our savior is born. You’d think God will come into the world to rescue those who are suffering and protect those who are vulnerable. You’d think that we are due for a hero…

Longing for a hero puts us in good company with our ancestors of faith. The poetry of the Old Testament  paints a picture of the long-awaited Messiah. He might come as a military leader or a king. He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. He will break the rod of oppression and establish peace. Prepare for the triumphant reign of rescue! Watch out for heaven crashing into earth!

Then we hear the Gospel story. Now it does have the part about heaven crashing into earth, but you’d think those angels would herald a coronation at the palace. You’d think God would’ve sent us a hero, like a five star general, or a president, or a rock star…

Already something is strange when the multitude of heavenly host appear to the shepherds. The shepherds. Shepherds were not well-respected in the ancient world. Some might call them rough and tumble. Some might call them thugs. Whatever you might think of them, they got the news first, and they just got up and left to go see for themselves. Can you imagine Mary’s reaction when this gang of shepherds comes through the door? I wonder if she screamed, “Who are you and why are you here?!”

I wonder if she looked at them, leaned forward, and said to one of them, “Here, can you just take him for a minute?” Can you imagine if Mary handed our Lord and Savior to a sweaty shepherd to hold for a minute… because I’m thinking this is exactly what she might have done.

The reason why I think this, is the next thing that happens is the shepherds go back and tell. The Bible says when they saw the baby lying in the manger, they went and made known what the angels told them. And here’s the thing. All who heard it were amazed. But who would stop to listen to a shepherd? Who would be amazed by anything a shepherd said, unless maybe they believed this shepherd could be telling the truth, unless maybe they knew the shepherds were telling the truth, like maybe they had even held that baby in their own sweaty calloused hands.

Somebody had to listen to those shepherds and risk believing them. But the problem with listening to a person is then you can’t not care. Listening then following the listening is dangerous work. It will probably change your day. It will certainly change the world.

Listen to the mother of the police officer —she sees her daughter on the news covered in riot gear and wonders whether she will come home alive. Listen to the thirteen year old boy who is afraid to go school because there are people there who want to watch him get hurt. Listen to the ones who are poor, or locked up, or thinking of ending their lives. Listen to Aylan’s father who says, “Everything I was dreaming of is gone. I want to bury my children and sit next to them until I die.”[2] Somebody needs to go and sit down next to him.

Listen to the teachers at the Academy who know how their students need help with reading. Listen to the mother who walked over to the church with her little boy late on a Wednesday afternoon. She needed size four diapers; we just had size three on the shelf. She took them gratefully then said to her son, “You’re just going to have to make these fit.”

This kind of listening happens often in this church, so you really should be warned. This kind of listening is how we’ll end up hearing those shepherds confront us with the promise that saves our lives. It will draw us right into that terrifying tangle of guilt and grief because of course, this is the place where compassion gets born. And if that’s not the Gospel, I don’t know what is.

Not a five star general, or a presidential candidate, or an NFL owner, or a Kardashian, or a pastor. God comes into the world as a baby born into trouble.

If anybody has ever handed you a baby, then you know. Holding a baby is not like holding a gun.

When you hold a baby, your body becomes pliant and responsive. You have to make your arms strong and soft at the same time. You have to pay attention to all the wriggling and murmuring going on and adjust your breathing, and not worry about getting slobbered on, and listen to the life you are holding. Babies can even get us singing.

Try holding one for a minute, and I’m guessing you will find that the decision to not care is no longer a realistic option. It’s like babies know that we human people harbor the compassion of God. And a baby will exploit that every chance she gets, reminding us that we really can be gentle. We really can be loving and powerful. We really can listen to those who are hurting and let ourselves be drawn deep into the sorrow that releases our compassion. And who knows where that will lead, and you better believe the world will not be the same.

There’s a baby who washed up on the shore still wearing his velcro shoes. There’s a baby who lives down the street from us who needs diapers that fit. There’s a baby born to a refugee family on the run and laid in a manger because there was no room in the inn and “Here, can you just take him for a minute?”

Turns out, we are not helpless after all. Now there are people who need to be listened to and little children born into trouble. Now Christ is the one we’ve been waiting for. With God, we are the ones. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Hallelujah. Amen.

[1] —this is a great post about the mystifying folklore-esque origin of this phrase


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