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Human Becoming




A year-round favorite movie at my house is the 2018 version of The Grinch. If you haven’t seen it, it’s mostly the same story as the other versions, but there are a handful of differences. One of which, seems so important to me tonight. The Grinch, of course, steals Christmas from all the Whos down in Who-ville, and then when they gather together as a community despite having lost all their decorations, food, and presents, he contritely and deeply apologetically returns everything he had stolen just before he returns to his lonely cave.

After the Grinch gets home, there’s a knock on the door. It’s little Cindy Lou Who, who has come to invite him to their family’s Christmas dinner. “Why are you inviting me?” he asks. “I stole Christmas! I did a terrible thing.” And Cindy Lou Who says a line that has stayed with me since I first saw the movie. “You’ve been alone long enough,” she tells the Grinch. He is, once again, overwhelmed at the act of love.

There are moments in life when we just don’t have an appropriate response to someone’s generosity. You have heard it said and likely have said it yourself, “thank you just doesn’t feel like enough.” A dear friend of mine has let me live with her two different times when I needed temporary housing. Years ago, an elderly neighbor cooked me dinner 2 or 3 times a week when I was a busy student who was living off fast food and granola bars. My grandparents loaned me money when I was behind on paying my tuition, and their gift kept me in college. Maybe for you it was the way someone gave their time to help you or gave you money when you were desperate for it. There are gifts that transcend our ability to respond with anything other than the deepest gratitude.

This Advent we have been talking about shifting our values this Christmas, to work towards worshipping fully, spending less, giving more, and loving all. These values might help us to respond to God’s gift to us at Christmas in a more genuine way. English poet John Betjeman’s poem “Christmas” seems to speak to that feeling of “it’s not enough” in response to the story.  Hear these last three stanzas of his poem-

 

“Christmas” by John Betjeman

And is it true,

This most tremendous tale of all,

Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,

A Baby in an ox's stall?

The Maker of the stars and sea

Become a Child on earth for me?

 

And is it true? For if it is,

No loving fingers tying strings

Around those tissued fripperies,

The sweet and silly Christmas things,

Bath salts and inexpensive scent

And hideous tie so kindly meant,

 

No love that in a family dwells,

No carolling in frosty air,

Nor all the steeple-shaking bells

Can with this single Truth compare —

That God was man in Palestine

And lives today in Bread and Wine.[1]

 

Betjeman’s point is this- If the story is true, then none of the things we do to celebrate Jesus’ birth compare, none of our responses seem quite right. They aren’t bad, these things we do- the gifts and bows and even the songs and bells, they just aren’t really related to Jesus, they aren’t really telling the story of Jesus, Immanuel, God-with-Us. If this is how we say thank you for God’s gift, well, it falls a little flat.

So then, how do we say thanks? How do we tell the story of our gratitude? What can we do to point towards the overwhelming and unshakable truth that “The Maker of the stars and sea/become a Child on earth for me?” What is the response of one who believes?

I have a few ideas about what we base our response on. These aren’t “how to” ideas, these are “why” ideas. What do we need to know about this God made real, God-in-the-flesh, for-unto-us Child? How might we understand the incarnation? God invites us to the table, “you’ve been alone long enough,” God says. So what then do we do?

First, we are called to respond to Jesus’ birth personally, as individuals, because Jesus’ birth is personal. Notice this- In Luke 2, the angels appear to the shepherds and say they have good news- “good news of great joy for you and all people: to you is born this day…a Savior who is the Messiah, the Lord.” For you, to you. Jesus is a gift for everyone, including you. The pastor and writer David Lose says it this way: “For while the Gospel is never a private word, it is nevertheless a very personal word, reminding each and every one of us that God believes we are worthy of honor and dignity and, above all else, love.”[2]

Jesus is personal, a gift of grace to you, to me, to each of us as individuals and as a collective. A gift this loving, this personal, begs for a response that is also rooted in love, and from the heart. The best gifts always come from the heart, right? The gifts that reveal that the giver and the recipient know and understand and love one another.

And the gift of Jesus is no different, it’s personal and it changes everything. Our scripture reading from John 1 reveals to us that God was and is and will be doing something extraordinary through Jesus- Jesus, the Word from “in the beginning,” the origin of all things, of all life, the Word takes on flesh and lives among us, transforming and recreating everything again. And what is this gift? It is “life, vitality, aliveness.[3] For those who will receive this gift, “they let God’s holy, radiant aliveness stream into their lives. They become portals of light in our world, and they start living as members of God’s family- which means they’re related to all of God’s creation…Jesus’ birth signals the beginning of the end for the dark night of fear, hostility, violence, and greed that has descended on our world. Jesus’ birth signals the start of a new day, a new way, a new understanding of what it means to be alive.”[4] Remember, Jesus himself told us that he came that we might have life, and have it abundantly.

So, our response to the gift of Jesus is to live, in fullness and wholeness, we live. Abundant life doesn’t just mean that your heart is still beating and your lungs are still filling up with air. It means joy, and hope, peace, and love. We pursue those things, even in the midst of the difficulties of life. We become those things and radiate them into the world. This is our response- to choose to live even when the shadows grow long, and hope feels far away. We reach towards the light, we share the light, we become the light.

And in that becoming, we find our third why. The theologian Walter Wink sees it this way- “And this is the revelation: God [in Jesus] is HUMAN … It is the great error of humanity to believe that it is human. We are only fragmentarily human, fleetingly human, brokenly human. We see glimpses of our humanness, we can only dream of what a more human existence and political order would be like, but we have not yet arrived at true humanness. Only God [in Jesus] is human, and we are made in God’s image and likeness — which is to say, we are capable of becoming human.”[5] We respond by accepting that we are just becoming, we are in process. Pastor Paul Nuechterlein sums it up for us- "In short, Jesus alone is Human Being. You and I are Human Becoming more than Human Being."[6]

You see, we must always be transforming, reforming, becoming. The gift of Jesus, just like the gift of each new day, is that comes. Over and over. Every moment is a new opportunity for accepting the gift of grace and being transformed. We press on.  “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

Jesus is the Word, the organizing principle of the universe, the breath of every living thing, and is also a human being. A human being who comes to us, for us, to give us abundant life, that we might become. This is the gift of Christmas. Saying thank you is not enough.

No love that in a family dwells,

No carolling in frosty air,

Nor all the steeple-shaking bells

Can with this single Truth compare —

That God was man in Palestine

And lives today in Bread and Wine.[7]

 

Through Jesus, God comes to us, in the middle of our guilt, shame, and brokenness. God says come to my table, you’ve been alone long enough.  So then, we come to God’s table.


[3] McLaren, B. We Make the Road by Walking, p. 79.

[4] Ibid. 80.

[5] Walter Wink, Just Jesus, p. 102; and a parallel in The Human Being, p. 26, qtd in The Girardian Lectionary.


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