Monday, December 12, 2011

Delivering the Goods

In 2001
Mom had accidentally
Burned out her condo stove
And was not to be trusted
With a 'Michael'-wave
Yet she loved toasted cheese sandwiches
So for Christmas that year
We gave her a brand new toaster
Because she had gummed up her old toaster
in her indomitable charging ahead
By munging up the guts with melted Velveeta;
She had figured out to turn the toaster on
Its side while heating the sandwich
And that sort of worked
But the time was approaching
(Was it past?)
When she was unable to
Charge ahead.
Yet at that Christmas we smiled
And had some good Asti, sparkling.



from John Helt at St Paul's UCC

splits the arrow again, in the bulls-eye:

35 years ago I had the experience recounted in what follows, an illustration I used on the Third Sunday of Advent to end a sermon. John Rutter’s Carol of the Magi unlocked this memory for me…

I have been thinking lately about the vulnerable, innocent children who have been victimized by the bad apple coach, priest or youth worker. This is such a tragedy, and as we approach Christmas, I can’t help but link this with the slaughter of the innocents that Matthew says a threatened King Herod ordered when the Magi tipped him off that Messiah had been born right under his nose. I can’t help but think about how Jesus, as child and as adult, took on our sin and became one of us in order to deliver us.

When we admire the little child, we see in him or her purity, innocence, enormous and yet unrealized potential. Will this child become prince or pauper, head of state or homeless, victor or victim, Christ or criminal?

The Carol of the Magi by John Rutter puts these words in the mouth of the wisemen who came to worship the Christchild: As you hear these words, think about today’s victimized children and youth in whose faces we might see Jesus, and think about how in Jesus, we see the faces of such children, even today:

We rode all night through fields of darkness,

Our guiding light the Eastern star;

We came to Bethlehem, we all were weary:

We'd travelled far that night, we'd travelled far.

We heard that here we'd find Messiah,

Foretold by seers from days of old;

We looked for palaces: and found a stable.

Could it be here, so bare and cold...?

We entered in and there we saw him;

It seemed we'd known him from long before

A child like any child, yet somehow different.

The face of every child in him we saw...

We'd brought him gifts, and now we offfered them;

We knelt down low in silent prayer.

With eyes that seemed to know both joy and sadness

The child looked down as we knelt there...

So long ago, yet I remember

That child who lay at Mary's knee;

How strange that every child seems so much like him.

His is the face I seem to see.

I recall taking a food pantry delivery to a home one Christmas Eve morning. The living room of the small apartment was full of family. I felt awkward and wanted to just hand over the grocery bags and leave. But a grandmother or great aunt stopped me and said that I must see something first before I go. The small crowd of people parted like the Red Sea and up from the sofa came a young mother, perhaps too young to be a mother, I thought. And in her arms was a tiny bundle, just a few days old, a firstborn child, I was told. Now I don’t remember if it was a boy or girl, but I do recall how someone took the bags of groceries from my arms and replaced them with that infant. A poor child, born into a family of very limited means, a child whose paternity may well have been questionable, and I looked into that little face and saw Jesus. “A child like any child but somehow different.”

“How strange that every child seems so much like him. His is the face I seem to see.”

I held that baby and began to weep. I passed the infant back to the mother and blubbered, “Thank you. Merry Christmas.” Then I hurried out the door. Pathetic words. Abrupt exit. What do you say when you have held Messiah in your arms? I came bearing the small gift of some canned goods and came away touched by an angel, blessed beyond imagining, jolted by a small black face that seemed more like Jesus than any I had seen before or have seen since. “So long ago, yet I remember.” The greatest of gifts.

I did not go to that poor home that day with any inkling at all about what I would find. I was just the delivery boy for our church, being a good scout. But I came away reminded of that greatest of gifts from God to the world, and the holy mystery of which came first, the innocence of the newborn child into which God poured incarnation or the incarnation which forever redeemed newborn life?

It doesn’t matter which came first. They are now and forever intertwined. That’s the heart of the Christmas message.

God bless the children, the innocents and the victimized in whom we see Jesus’ face. May we see and remember them in the face of Jesus, at this birth and always.

So long ago, yet I remember

That child who lay at Mary's knee;

How strange that every child seems so much like him.

His is the face I seem to see.