This sermon, offered by The Rev. Andy Jones at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin on December 24 2018 is built around the readings for Christmas I in the Revised Common Lectionary.
You can find those readings here
It’s really great to see you all as we gather around the manger to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Christ, Emmanuel, God with us…!
And it’s pretty wonderful that we have this luxurious, spacious birthing suite here… But I think I need to check with my supervisor. I’m not sure we’re allowed to have this many people in here at one time…
(Looking up…) What’s that? Oh. OK. Yup it’s fine. But just this once…
You know nothing draws a crowd like a baby. They’re like a magnet. Sometimes, when there’s a new baby here on Sunday morning, the parents never make it to coffee hour because people swarm around them up here in the nave, just wanting to get close to the baby. But who’s to blame us right? Babies are amazing.
There’s the pure wonder in the physicality of them, the little tiny fingers complete with nails and wrinkles at the knuckles, the smell of their hair, why does a baby’s hair always smell so good? There’s the faces they make when they are waking up, the brightness of their eyes with they are alert, soaking everything up, learning…
And then there are the intangible wonders… the miracle of new life, the bond between mother and child, the tenderness, the love…
When we are around a newborn child we feel a special sense of connection, wonder, and awe.
But I would suggest that there’s something else about babies that draws us in.
They are dependent on us for everything. They need us to feed them, change their diapers, to protect them, to shelter them. They need us to interpret and understand when something is wrong and to know what to do about it. And the miracle in all of this dependency… Is that it doesn’t push us away. It actually draws us in.
In one of her TED Talks, Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, tells how her research has found that people who express a true sense of connection with the people and the world around them are people who embrace vulnerability.
They believe that what makes them vulnerable also makes them beautiful. They are willing to risk, “To do something where there are no guarantees. To invest in a relationship that may not work out. To say ‘I love you’ first.”
Taking risks, making ourselves vulnerable may, at times, leave us hurt or wounded but, according to Brown, “it is also the birthplace of joy, creativity, of belonging, of love…”
Hear that again, the willingness to be vulnerable “… is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, of love.”
That might sound strange to you because we are taught early on that revealing, expressing sharing our vulnerability is a risky thing to do…
If we are vulnerable we may be seen as “weak.” And in today’s economy, being vulnerable or weak means that we will be judged as lacking. We won’t get picked for the team. Someone else will get the job, the promotion, the recognition. And pretty soon that “place” of “joy, creativity, of belonging, of love,” the place that requires us to be vulnerable, becomes a place that we avoid, deny, even resent…
We see a baby, totally dependent on us for everything, and their vulnerability draws us in because, somehow, we sense in that moment the possibility of something of which we can never have enough, joy, creativity, belonging, love.
There are other “places” where we might risk being vulnerable; music, art, the theater, even at the movies. But these can be solitary places. We close our eyes. We go inside. We may sit “together, but we do it in a darkened room.
But when we come together around that miracle of new life, when a newborn child is placed in our arms, when we see the potential that child represents, the risk undertaken in coming into the world; we can be moved to a place of vulnerability ourselves.
We find ourselves willing to invest our love in one who can’t yet, and may never, reciprocate. We become willing to share the things we hold most deeply, we find ourselves wanting to connect. And there, in the company of other people, maybe even looking them full in the face, we find ourselves, as a community bound together by our vulnerability, in “the birthplace of joy, creativity, of belonging, of love.”
No wonder we’re all here. No wonder we need to bend the rules to let everyone, and I mean everyone, into the delivery room tonight. The birth of a child is a gift that can help us to enter into a space for which we all desperately long. And this crowd? All of us here tonight, squeezed in around the manger? Well, this isn’t just any child.
This is God coming into the world, Emmanuel, God with us.
And even as this birth draws us into that place, allows us a moment to be vulnerable, our hearts are opened to a new reality, a new way of being…
Here by the manger we begin to realize that this place, this moment of tender connection, of risk, of vulnerability is the “place” where God lives.
That’s really hard to imagine. But joy, creativity, belonging, love, those things sound like God, don’t they?
God is here with us, as a newborn child, defenseless, dependent on us for everything… to affirm the value of vulnerability. And to model a way of being that will help us to see, to experience, to live in the world in a new way; a way that leads to the peace of God which passes all understanding.
Tomorrow, or later this week if you are lucky, when you go back into those other places, those same pressures will be there, trying to discourage you from being vulnerable, trying to get you to rebuild the walls that separate us one from another, from God, and even from ourselves. Those same pressures will be there, asserting that this was only a dream, that it isn’t real; trying to drag us from the manger and the truth that we have found here.
But when that happens, when allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to be who you are, to live in the birthplace of oy, creativity, of belonging, of love… remember what God has done here in this place and,
“Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”