"Making Contact"


Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - December 24, 2004


Christmas Eve


     Christmas is always a time when we focus their attention on miracles, shepherds and angels as we celebrate God’s love entering history in a form we could understand.  Families gather to exchange gifts and enjoy fellowship.   Every effort is made to see that our military around the world receive special attention.  We even bow in humility as the words “Merry Christmas” have surrendered to “Happy Holidays” in deference to those in our society who celebrate their faith differently. 

     There are so many priorities that attract our attention during this time of year that it is easy to miss the point of why we celebrate.  Christmas has become such a social occasion with open houses, office parties and family gatherings. Our celebration also represents an incredible marketing opportunity for various merchants. 

     Tonight I would like each of us to consider one possibility – God was attempting to communicate to species.  I use the word, “attempting” because even for God, messages must be received by people through vastly different hearing filters.  Everyone perceives reality through his or her individual history, level of education, experience and religious orientation that represent an infinite number of combinations and variations. 

     Several weeks ago, I happened to watch the movie Contact starring Jodie Foster.  The movie posed an interesting question.  What would we think and how would we respond if we received unequivocal evidence that we were not alone in the universe?  The movie explored this possibility. 

     As the story drew to a close, the character played by Jodie was transported through what is now considered to be theoretical wormholes in space, placing her in an environment perhaps millions of light years from earth.  She found herself in a location that defied description with its magnificent white sandy beach, lapping tidal waters, colors and sounds. 

     She met someone who looked exactly like her father who had died during her childhood.  She knew he was not real.  She also perceived that his intimate knowledge of her was the result of his ability to access her thoughts and memory patterns. 

     He told her that he was only using a familiar form so that the two could communicate.  The discussion was one of those inspired dialogues that do not come to the movie screen that often. 

     This highly evolved being said to her, “Your species is such an interesting one.  You are capable of remarkable things, but you also experience such horrible nightmares.  You feel so cut off and detached, so alone and lost.  There was a time when my species struggled just as yours.  As we searched within our emptiness, we discovered that our journey began when we learned that we must first take care of each other before we could learn anything new.”  These words were very reflective of, “Love your neighbor.” 

     She responded, “Others on earth need to hear these words.  People on my world need to know about this place.  Can we come back?”  He answered, “You have taken a step and then you will take another one.  It has been this way with all the species in the universe for billions of years.  Your kind will arrive here through a series of small moves as you evolve toward your eventual destiny.” 

     We find great comfort, joy and even sentimentality when we watch the story of Jesus’ birth unfold--a story that is frequently reenacted by children.  Parents get so excited watching their little ones perform that quite often they can be seen standing on our pews with their digital cameras and camcorders trying to capture every moment for posterity. 

     Is the message of Christmas really about the birth of a child, or is it more like a story describing God reaching out to everyone through a form we could understand?  According to this interpretation of the story, we are actually capable of loving each other as God loves us.  Paul listed in Galatians the fruits of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. 

     Are these attributes of spirit really beyond our grasp as we frequently communicate through our behavior?  We find ourselves in a world that causes us to feel so compelled to respond with fruits from our bodies.  Each of us is familiar with the battlegrounds, e.g., our relationships, our work environment, our politics, our issues with money and health or with our identity, purpose, meaning and mission in life.  There are times when we do feel completely lost.  Is it impossible for us to believe and live this message of Christmas?           

     One day a graduate student was extremely late for his class in statistics--a course that many of us struggled with during our university experience.  He was earning an advanced degree at the University of California at Berkeley.  The class was nearly over when he entered the room breathless from his dash across the campus.  There were two problems on the blackboard behind the professor.  He assumed that solving them was the homework assignment.  He copied them and worked feverishly over the weekend to solve them.  On Monday morning he turned in the assignment.           

     Two months later, the professor arrived at his door and requested his signature on a manuscript.  The document centered on the two problems the student had hastily copied from the blackboard that afternoon.  The student was surprised by the good doctor’s visit.           

     The professor explained, “The two problems I wrote on the blackboard were examples of two unsolvable math problems.  Since the time of Albert Einstein, math experts have all agreed that these two problems were impossible to solve.  You solved both of them.  I’m proud of you, son. I want to publish your answers.”  That student’s name is George B. Dantzig, who is known today as “The Father of Linear Programming.”  What George had missed hearing during the earlier part of the professor’s lecture was the word, “Impossible.” 

     Christmas is a time when we celebrate the moment God made contact with our kind. This message can change our lives if we are open to it. In essence God said, “Follow this baby when he becomes a man, and you will leap a million years ahead of your species’ evolutionary design. What Jesus brought into your midst was a window that will allow you to see who you are capable of being.  When you understand more thoroughly who you are, you will more accurately understand me.”  Have we received this message?  If we have not, rest assured that it has been sent! 

THE PASTORAL PRAYER

    Thank you, God, for fashioning our eventual destiny through the seeds you planted in the life and teachings of Jesus.  Tonight we celebrate the birth of the baby who grew up to change the world.   

    This evening and tomorrow are times when our emotions rise to the surface of our lives.  We remember past experiences in our homes when we were children.   The smells, food and fellowship remind us of members of our family who are no longer with us.  Coming to church on Christmas Eve helps us remember who we are in your eyes.  Thank you for reaching out to us when we are vulnerable to self-definitions that suggest that we are lost or unworthy of your love.

    While we are here in the beauty of our sanctuary, we ask for blessings upon families who have been separated by war, upon our police officers and our medical personnel who remain on call, upon those who are hospitalized and permanently in nursing facilities, upon those whose families are dissolving and upon those who can no longer believe in anything that has to do with the themes surrounding Jesus’ birth.  Teach us how beautiful life can become when we learn to see through the vision of life that Jesus came to the earth to give us.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray . . .