"How God Uses Obscurity"

Meditation delivered By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - December 24, 2008


    Tonight, no one needs to have recreated for them why we are here or what we are celebrating.  Even those who are somewhat acquainted with Christianity know the big picture that defines our faith traditions.  In other words, we know the story that has been sung about, talked about and written about for over 2,000 years.           

     The pageantry, the liturgies, the Scriptures, the holy communions, the sermons, the prayers and the storytelling do not connect us with God.  Such practices and observances only point to something that might be extremely obscure to us.  We have been celebrating the birth of Jesus for over 2,000 years and the spirit by which many people live has not changed that much.  How can that be?  What are we missing?           

     During his ministry, Jesus did everything humanly possible to put into concrete words what living a life grounded in spirit looked like, a quality of life that by its nature will always remain invisible.   What we see are only the results of a person’s spiritual orientation, not the source. 

     We human beings simply do not realize how powerful the symbols of our material world are in driving the source of our personal spiritual journey into even deeper obscurity.  Many people today have no idea what we are talking about when we mention spirit.  Some of us who claim to believe but do not practice, may not know.          

     A number of years ago Kathy Ormsby was a long distance runner from North Carolina State University.  She became an NCAA Champion in her events.  Kathy earned perfect grades all through school.  Her accomplishments were so remarkable that the mayors of five communities in her county set aside a day to honor her. That had never been done for any other student.  The way she bundled her skills and talents made her the near perfect role model for other students.  For some reason, however, Kathy walked out on a bridge and threw herself into the river.  

     She survived the leap but suffered life-threatening spinal injuries. Her medical team was not sure that she would ever walk again.  What would cause someone who was gregarious, popular and brilliant to do such a thing?  Perhaps we do not know each other as well as we think we do.  There is a little place inside of us that is obscure, yet it governs our moods, our emotions and most of our responses to life.           

     Most of us can remember when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after it was launched at the Cape.  Following an extensive investigation, it was revealed that the destruction of the orbiter and its crew was caused by an obscure, inexpensive part called an O-Ring. 

     Equally, there is a tiny, obscure part within us that remains a mystery to so many. Only now is science taking this invisible part of us seriously.  I predict that one day Spirituality will be taught on a college level as a core course.  Countless people know the message, they know the Jesus story, and they know how Jesus illustrated God’s love but they have spent little or no time connecting the dots about their true identity.   They have thoroughly adapted their lives and their identities to our physical world.           

     Behind my desk is the picture of God and man reaching toward each other.  This can be seen on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.  What can make this portrayal of the God-people connection so confusing is that God is seen as a material being reaching toward another material being.  That is not how such a connection works. 

     God is so obscure that there are countless brilliant minds that suggest that God does not exist.  God is used to that.  God knows that sooner or later, humanity will get the message. Michelangelo must have known this because the finger of God and the finger of man never touch.  Only spirit can connect with spirit.   What are people to do who have no desire to understand their O-Ring, that obscure aspect of life that can propel them to levels of reality beyond their wildest imaginations or confuse them with what often appears to be the randomness and meaninglessness of life’s experiences? 

     It does not matter how great we become to history if our spirit is not connected to the infinite source of our origin.  For example, try to imagine how it was for Alexander the Great to rule the world by the age of 23.  He had hundreds of thousands of troops and extremely brilliant generals who followed his leadership into one country after another.  He even wept when he learned that there were no more worlds left to conquer.  Yet, Alexander was empty even though he conquered and was ruling the entire civilized world. 

     In Babylon, however, he met something he could not conquer.  It came in a bottle.  It was alcohol that eventually defeated Alexander.  He died 323 years before Jesus was born, literally starving to death spiritually for the consciousness that could have saved his life - that God-connection that still remains obscure to so many of us. 

     Another framed symbol that I have hanging on my office wall is perhaps the greatest statistical graph ever created.  To me the graph symbolizes the futility of war.   It was drawn by the French engineer, Charles Joseph Minard. 

    It shows the war of 1812 when Napoleon marched 422,000 soldiers into Russia.  When his frozen, exhausted and starving troops retreated to Poland, only 10,000 of his men survived the campaign. 

     Listen to what Napoleon wrote, “Caesar, Charlemagne and I have founded great empires.  On what did our genius depend?  On force!    Jesus of Nazareth founded His Kingdom on love and service and today, millions continue to honor Him.”  Napoleon was where many of us are today.  He knew the story, but he became so attracted to the remarkable possibilities he could achieve by conquering the material world that he never personalized the message Jesus grew up to teach.

     Perhaps tonight’s message does not contain the sensitive, sentimental stories about baby-Jesus that we enjoy hearing each Christmas Eve.  What we need to hear is the importance of opening our body, mind and spirit to the possibilities offered to us by the obscure, invisible doorway to the infinite within us when we walk through it. 

     We do not need more promising young people like Kathy Ormsby leaping off of bridges.  The world does not need even one more Alexander, Caesar or Napoleon.  What we need to remember is how God uses that obscure, invisible part of us to create music, art, poetry, sermons, architecture and nearly every product and service that makes our world a more wholesome place for men and women to live and rear their families.  

     Jesus coming into our world was for one purpose.  Regardless of what other pastors and teachers will tell you – Jesus came for only one purpose.   Listen to Jesus’ own words, “I was born and came into the world for this one purpose – to speak about the truth.  Whoever is searching for the truth listens to what I teach.”  (John 18:37)   Jesus spoke similar words that were recorded in another Gospel.  He said, “To fulfill the purpose that God gave me I must preach the Good News about the Kingdom of God everywhere I go.”  (Luke 4:43) 

     He kept trying to make visible this obscure part of us that connects us to the infinite source of our origin.  When our spirits remain attached to their source, our fears leave us. Our confidence while living in the material world is restored.  Our fears become replaced by the qualities of spirit represented by the themes of our Advent Candles: Hope, Love, Joy and Peace.

    Yes, we celebrate Jesus’ birth tonight.  However, what has far more significance, is what God continues to teach us through him.  He gave us a new blueprint for life that is not of this world.   If we choose – we can become angels in the flesh right now.  Begin the New Year by taking flight lessons through practicing the art of giving yourselves away in whatever form that may be for you.  As you practice, begin tomorrow by having a Merry Christmas.  Amen.


     Thank you, God, for giving us a window through which to view our eventual destiny.  That vision came through the seeds planted in our lives by the wisdom and teachings of Jesus.  Tonight as we celebrate his birth, help us to remember how much his presence has changed the quality and direction of so many lives.  His power is still doing so even though almost 2000 years have come and gone.  

     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 to remember who we are in your eyes.  Thank you for reaching out to us when we are vulnerable to the definitions given us by the teachings of the world.  Thank you for loving us with a different set of life-style blueprints.  

     While we are here in the beauty of our sanctuary, we ask for blessings upon families who have been separated by obligations of military service. Bless our troops who are stationed throughout the world. Bless our police officers and our medical personnel who remain on call.  Bless those who are hospitalized and in nursing facilities.  Bless families that for whatever reason are dissolving and bless those who can no longer believe in anything that has to do with the realities surrounding Jesus’ birth, ministry, death and resurrection.  Teach us how beautiful life can become when we have the orientation toward life that Jesus grew up to teach his listeners.  We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .