Today's eMo is really two different meditations on texts that will be read in many churches this Sunday. The first is the usual sermon preparation eMo. The second is intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the Church's ministry to the poor and victims of natural disasters or war, through the work of Episcopal Relief and Development. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.
What "Normal" Is Now
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. -- Luke 2:1-3
The most familiar story of the Christian year begins with a most secular situation -- the Romans want to count things. We are introduced to the moment of the Incarnation by means of a rather tedious bureaucratic event.
If this seems odd and disappointingly normal -- shouldn't it all begin with something a little more...well, sublime? -- it is because we persist in misunderstanding what Incarnation means. We keep thinking that the Prince of Peace will be like our princes, walled away from us in a luxury we do not enjoy. That the kingdom of heaven has nothing to do with the day-to-day grind of earth. That the Son of God comes to whisk us away from all that.
No. He comes to give us a new. normal. He comes to transform our relationship to the world and to one another, to inhabit and sanctify it. Through him we will see what it is to love the world so much that its good becomes our good, and begin to hope that we might birth such love in our own hearts. That we are connected with one another in a bond that cannot be severed, and that this applies to everyone, everywhere, not just to people we know, who live where we live. That this life, our place in time and space, is far from being the summative thing we have thought it was: existence is larger than we are, wider than just here, longer than just now.
From henceforth, we know that the deepening of our connection with God does not depend upon removing ourselves from ordinary life: rather, that connection has become ordinary: every day, accessible to us all. Life with Christ has become normal for us.
Perhaps we will think of that after the presents have all been opened, the lovely dinner cooked and eaten, the last cookie nibbled, the last guest sent out into the night, in that satisfying moment when we savor being finished with all our work. Now things can get back to normal, we may say to ourselves. And then, perhaps, we will stop and think about what "normal" really is.
Psalm 96 or 96:1-4,11-12
And here is the ERD meditation:
Gifts for Life
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-- on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy...
Nobody will be here when we awaken on Christmas morning -- our children are grown, and will awaken in their own houses. It will be a |Sunday morning, so there will be normal church. A nice dinner. Some guests later. And then just Q and me.
What do you want for Christmas? he asked earlier this month.
Oh, I don't know, I answered. There's nothing I need. How about you?
The same, he said. I have everything I need.
And so we've decided to give each other Episcopal Relief and Development for Christmas. We'll sit down with their "Gifts for Life" catalogue on Christmas afternoon and choose something wonderful. We already know it will be wonderful because of how wonderful my recent ordination anniversary was. I have rarely had as much fun as I had marking 25 years of priesthood.
How much did they get, again? he asked.
Wow. That's a lot of pigs.
Yup. I got lots of pigs. I got mosquito nets and fish farms. I got seeds and farming tools. I got schooling for African AIDS orphans -- Q himself gave me a year's schooling for 30 children. 30!
I don't know what we'll choose on Christmas Day. Maybe Hurricane Katrina aid and Pakistani earthquake aid, in a 50/50 split. Maybe something else. But we have plenty of lovely coffee and tea, and I have baked lots of cookies. I hear it might snow, and we have plenty of firewood. We have some good Christmas CDs -- music to choose Gifts for Life by.
Could a Christmas afternoon be happier? Two people more blessed? If so, I can't imagine how.
The Gifts for Life catalogue is at http://www.er-d.org/waystogive_40774_ENG_HTM.htm ,or telephone 1-800-334-7626, ext 5129.