"We're Too Close To See"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 12/24/1997
Some years ago I was standing in the crowded post office on Capitol Hill. Every window was operating and the tense environment communicated an atmosphere that was far from the spirit of Christmas. The postal clerks were having their people skills tested by a few customers who were being less than courteous. As I was standing there simply enduring the experience, into the post office came a young mother with her three little girls. She and her daughters were carrying several packages to be shipped.
I happened to notice the look on the face of one of the clerks, a look that communicated, "Lady, if you think that anybody is going to get those packages before Christmas, you are living in another universe!" As she got in line I heard her say to her children, "Isn't it beautiful in here? They have it decorated so thoughtfully just for people like us. Oh look, there is a big picture of the Christmas stamp with Mary and the baby Jesus."
Interestingly enough, I had not taken the time to notice those decorations prior to that woman mentioning them to her daughters. I needed to buy more Christmas stamps and I had been preoccupied with wondering why the manager of the post office did not have a line for people like me. After all, why should I have to wait in the same line as people who had more time- consuming needs? I wanted in and out of that post office as quickly as possible.
However, that young mother's words to her daughters took me back to an ancient tax registration, to an inn that was crowded with people who were trying to find lodging for themselves, and to a carpenter whose wife was about to have a baby. Everyone was so busy with what they wanted and needed that there was no room in their minds for observing anything else. While standing in that post office, I realized that I had become just like them.
I suspect by our nature that is who we are when we are not being attentive to whom God called us to be. And sometimes we don't take the time to consider what the mother was so observant to notice, "Oh look, there is a big picture of the Christmas stamp with Mary and the baby Jesus." Sometimes we are so involved with the routines of Christmas that we do not communicate the meaning of the very event we celebrate.
Perhaps we are not aware that historically, before Jesus was born, expressions of love in the world's societies were very difficult to find. Only the people at the top of society counted for anything. Beneath that Patrician class, human beings had no value. For example, Caesar could decree the death of anyone and it would be done without question.
Many of the great ancient public works that are still visible today were built by toiling slaves. When slaves grew too exhausted or became sick, they were often allowed to lie in the path of the gigantic stone slabs that were being fitted together. After all, there were numerous replacements.
Women were considered as property. The birth of female babies was not celebrated by either parent. There were no soup kitchens, no hospitals, no social or legal services, and no justice for the masses. We can hardly imagine living in such a world.
But God sowed a seed in Bethlehem of Judea, and it did not matter what people believed about that event either during it or since; love was born anyway. Something that had not existed, suddenly did. A great light had come into our midst and no darkness has been able to put it out. During his ministry Jesus spoke of our being the leaven for the loaf and of our being the light set on a hill so that others could see.
When loving people are mixed together with everyone else, the entire society rises like a loaf of bread. We just needed someone to come into our midst and teach everyone how that could be done. Tonight we celebrate the birth of the one who did.
Sometimes, however, in our neediness we do not feel like even considering what God has done. For some people Christmas can be a triggering mechanism for sadness. This was definitely the case for a man who lived in a small New England town. He was merely going through the paces of Christmas. Several months earlier his wife had died of cancer, leaving him with several small children to rear.
He worked for the rural community's post office. His assignment each year was to open, read and respond to all the letters that arrived addressed to Santa Claus. He was fearful that his spirit was not into the task for the present season. One afternoon near Christmas Day, he opened a letter that arrived from a very familiar address. It was his own. The letter was from his little daughter, Julie.
Love is in our midst and it comes in many unique forms. We may not recognize many of the ways love expresses itself. For example, who would have guessed a little baby, born in a stable, in an obscure part of the world would be God's richest blessing to all the people? Because of life's many distractions, we are seldom looking for anything out of the ordinary. Just then, in the midst of life's many frustrations and changes, a mother with three little girls reminds us, "Oh look! There is a big picture of the Christmas Stamp with Mary and baby Jesus." Or, a little girl writes a letter attempting to get in touch with God about her Daddy's sadness. She was willing to give up everything to have her Daddy happy again.
No other time of the year so sensitizes our spirits as does Christmas. A family in Bowie received so much smoke damage from a fire in their home, that a Dad, Mom and their six children were moved to one of our area hotels. They are getting together on Christmas day and one of the women of St. Matthew's has volunteered to cook for them. Love comes through many wonderful expressions.
Pat Conti lay dying from his cancer last evening. Patti Smith was with Pat and his family for three and a half hours until Pat left his body. Patti brought to Rita, their two children and the extended family what Christ came to give all of us. Rita told me this morning that Patti was ministering to a large Italian Roman Catholic family. It did not matter, healing and peace were present and given away even though the vehicle of such love was not the priest to which the family had been accustomed.
Tonight, let us all thank God for God's greatest gift to all of us -- the gift of love that became flesh and dwelt among us. In our minds let us clear away all the pageantry tonight and ask ourselves this question, "What can I do with this great gift that will make love more visible in my world?"