"Living In Jesus’ Endless Kingdom”


Meditation Delivered By Reverend Richard E. Stetler – December 24, 2011

Centenary United Methodist Church

Luke 2:1-10

CHRISTMAS EVE

     Every year the Christmas season has a magnetic pull on the spirits of millions of people that attracts them to respond differently to life’s routines.  Christmas helps us to pause amidst all the craziness of life to be with family, to give gifts, to express our generosity and to show a bit more compassion for those who are getting by in life with much less than most of us. 

    This evening I want us to consider that responding to life in this fashion is how God wired us when God created our species.  This is our native state.  This is our true nature. Radiating this spirit is what it is like to live in the Kingdom of God -- that state of consciousness where love is all there is. 

    Each morning, if we could begin our day by reminding ourselves that God has given us another moment in time to polish our generosity, our compassion, and our sensitivity to others, the world would be at peace and the words of the prophet Micah would come to pass, “They will hammer their swords into plows and their spears into instruments for pruning.”  (Micah 4:3)

    Our well-honed routines and well-rehearsed responses to life drive us even during Christmas to focus on tasks, e.g., sending cards, shopping, wrapping gifts, decorating, cleaning, polishing the silver and glassware, baking, cooking, etc.  We have to do these things because of time-honored traditions and our need to celebrate Christ’s birth successfully. 

    Jesus once warned his listeners, “The path to authentic living is narrow and difficult to find.  Learning to stay on the path is likewise difficult and there are very few people who can do it.”  (Matthew 7:14)  Most of us want to be among the few who succeed.  All of us know why Jesus was so correct in his teaching.           

    The Dean of the Boston University School of Music watched an unusual event take place in front of the school's library. It was the Christmas break, the temperatures were getting cooler and there were snowflakes flying in air.  Classes had just been dismissed and the students were rushing back to their dorm rooms to gather their belongings and head for home. 

    In the midst of the Christmas rush by the students, an old gentleman was sitting on one of the campus’ benches.  From the looks of him, he probably had no place to go.  He was playing a violin and he had opened his worn-out violin case that no doubt represented his beggars’ tin cup. It was empty.  What made the scene worse was that he was invisible. No one even paused to look at him or listen to his playing.  Each had so many things on his or her mind.

    A young woman came out of the library that the Dean recognized as one of the coeds in his music department.  Being a student of the violin herself, she paused to listen to his untutored playing.  Like the other students, she was also in a hurry to collect her packed suitcase and head for home. 

    Apparently, she was a student of rare sensitivities and was walking on that narrow path Jesus described that was difficult to find.  Her heart went out to him.  She interrupted his playing and asked, "May I see your violin for a moment?"  He looked at her and resisted.  He told her that the violin had belonged to his dad and it was among the few prized possessions he had left. The kind expression on her face and her words won his heart.  She asked, "Would you mind if I played something for you as my gift to you this Christmas?" 

    It was this overheard request that caused the Dean to stop and watch a precious moment unfold amidst all the rushing people. He reluctantly handed his instrument to her.  She tuned the violin, rubbed some rosin on the bow which she had in her backpack, put the violin under her chin and began to play Ave Maria.  She knew the piece by heart. 

    The Dean observed that almost immediately, something remarkable happened to the rushing crowd.  Her playing was so crisp and precise, so magnificent that people slowed their pace and began to gather around the two of them. Those that gathered intuitively understood what this student was doing for this dear soul sitting on the bench.  They opened their purses and wallets filling the gentleman’s well-worn violin case with money. 

    The Dean wrote about this event in the campus newspaper and concluded his article with these words: 

I was touched by the spirit of one of our students that afternoon in a way that a thousand sermons on good will would never have done.  An old man, who was too powerless to help himself, sat on the ground weeping.  He appeared more touched by her willingness to play his dad’s violin just for him than by the quantity of money that was accumulating in his violin case. 

She reminded me of the priceless gift we give to others when we give of ourselves.  She also reminded me that this is what God did for all humankind centuries ago when baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  That baby grew up to provide humankind with a road map to guide us safely through life, a road map that one of our students clearly was using that afternoon. 

 

All of us need more moments like the one I witnessed to remind us about a part of our lives that can so easily become misplaced when we lose our way by rushing from one thing to another.

    All of us have this quality and quantity of compassion inside of us.  Some times we need to get it out and dust it off a bit so we can use it more often.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “I was born and came into the world for this one purpose, to speak about the truth.”  (John 18:37) In order to make that truth of “love thy neighbor” to become visible to the rest of the world each of us has to live it.   Please remember this every morning before you begin rushing from one thing to the next.  Merry Christmas to all of you!  Amen.

    Thank you, God, for giving us insight into our eventual destiny through the seeds you planted in the life and teachings of Jesus.  Tonight, we celebrate the birth of the child who grew up to change how many people in the world think and perceive, helping to make humankind more compassionate and loving.    

    As we celebrate this evening and tomorrow, we recognize that these are times when our emotions rise to the surface of our lives.  We may remember past experiences in our homes when we were children.   The smells, food and fellowship remind us of members of our family who may no longer be with us.  Coming to church on Christmas Eve, singing the hymns and hearing once again the story of old helps us to recall your infinite love of us.  Thank you for communicating to us in so many forms.  We are vulnerable to self-definitions that are vastly different from those that you have of us.  You know everything about the potential of each of us and you never cease surrounding us with your presence, even when our sensitivities to your being there are often dulled by the demands of our life-experiences.

    While we are here in the beauty of our sanctuary, we ask for blessings upon families who have been separated by circumstances, upon our police officers and our medical personnel who remain on duty tonight, upon those who are hospitalized and in nursing facilities and upon those who can no longer believe in you -- for many of them Christmas is just another day.  Thank you for the mercies you bestow on each of us.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus’ love and mercy who taught his disciples to say when they prayed . . .