Grace and peace to you from God our Creator, and from Jesus, the Son of God who is the Word made flesh! Amen.
Three or four times during a typical week, somewhere around 6am, you will find me at the gym. Being there that early in the morning is not my first choice…my first choice actually would be to NOT go to the gym at all. But being there is, I know, probably good for me, and since Lori and I are currently deep in the midst of the “chauffeuring” stage of parenting, it’s the one time of day that seems to consistently work best.
I have to admit: being at the gym that time of the morning is a little surreal. There might be anywhere from 15-30 people who are there, using the various torture machines, or lifting weights, or whatever. But what’s interesting to me is how non-social people are. In this big room, with people, and equipment, there is practically no interaction. There’s some background music playing, but other than that, there is no chatter, no conversation, nothing. Just the occasional clatter of weights hitting the floor. Perhaps occasionally, when walking past someone, you may slightly smile and give a nod. But that’s about it. Everyone has their own headphones plugged in, and they’re listening to one of the giant TV’s on the wall, or they listen to their own music… I tend to listen to podcasts, or maybe audio books, and focus on not shooting off the back end of the treadmill.
Everyone there is completely plugged in to their own world. And while we may occupy the same general space, we could just as well all be on different continents. It’s like we’re all there…but we don’t see each other.
I contrast that to coming to work every day. Let’s just say that the office here at Trinity is highly…social. There is conversation and laughter, all day. Our idea of inter-office communication is my yelling across the hallway from my desk, “Hey Dean!” And he yells back “what, Grand Poohbah?” (and I roll my eyes.)
But the point is, wherever we go: school, work, whatever, we get to choose how we connect with each other…we have the power to decide how we are going to be with each other.
“With” is such an interesting word.
The dictionary definition of the word “with” is: “accompanied by another person or thing.” At the gym, we may be together in the same building, but there is no sense of “with” whatsoever. Everyone is tuned in to their own little world.
But what does it mean for us, as people of faith, to be “with” each other?
The Christmas story that we just heard a few minutes ago is probably the best known of all the stories from scripture. We know the characters, Emperor Augustus, Quirinius, the Governor of Syria; there is Mary and Joseph, the Shepherds, the angels, and a baby.
But this long-ago story is not only about these ancient characters. It’s also a story about us; and it is a story about what it is to be “with.”
After Jesus was born, the angels appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of the Messiah. “Do not be afraid!” the angel said. “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Did you catch that? The angel didn’t say “this day, a Savior, a Messiah is born.” No, the angel said “to you is born this day a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord.” To you is born this day. To you.
This Messiah, this King is born not to be a distant ruler, not a politician, not a monarch merely to be honored. No, Jesus is born to be a King, but to be a King for you. He is your Savior. He is your Messiah. Jesus comes to be with you. As a matter of fact, if we jumped for a moment to the story of Jesus’ birth in Matthew’s gospel, it goes on to say: “and you shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” Jesus is literally named, “God with you.”
What does it mean for Jesus to be with us?
You may remember the story of 12 year old Cody Green, from Indiana. He was in the news a couple of years ago. Cody developed Leukemia at 22 months old. He endured multiple rounds of treatment all through his childhood. It was a difficult journey for him and his family. He was in and out of remission three times. As a young boy, he developed an interest in…no, really an infatuation with, the US Marine Corps. He was curious, and he read and learned everything he could. The ideals and standards for which they stood was something that gave him strength, and goals. More than anything, young Cody wanted to be a Marine.
Through the Make a Wish Foundation, Cody had the opportunity to meet, and spend time with members of the Marine Corps., to befriend them. And those marines developed a respect for Cody, for his strength and tenacity.
In an unofficial ceremony, members of the marine unit gathered at Cody’s home, and presented him with a certificate, and with unit patches, and declared him an honorary United States Marine.
Unfortunately, Cody’s health turned. And while he was cancer-free, the treatments had wreaked havoc with his immune system and he developed an infection in the brain. Cody wouldn’t survive.
Marine Sergeant Mark Dolfini tells the rest of the story in an interview. He said: “I got the call from Cody’s Dad about 4:00 that afternoon. He made it pretty clear to me that Cody was terminal and he wasn’t going to last too much longer. I put on my dress uniform, and got in my car.
When I was driving down there, I had no idea what I was going to say, I had no idea what I was walking into, I didn’t know if Cody was even conscious,” said Sgt. Dolfini. “I didn’t know anything.”
When he arrived, Cody was not awake.
Sgt. Dolfini knelt by Cody’s bed, removed his Marine Corps navigator wings and pinned them to Cody’s chest.
He then made a decision. He walked over to the door of the hospital room, turned to face Cody and braced at attention. In his full-dress uniform, complete with his ceremonial sword, Sgt. Dolfini was going to stand watch in the room for as long as Cody was alive. The marine stood at attention, unmoving, for eight hours, keeping watch; just being with Cody and his family in the only way he knew how…in the way that he knew would bring meaning to them…in a way that reminded them they were not alone. Sgt. Dolfini stood there all the way, until the end. Cody’s Mom said later: “It was like his strength gave us strength.”
To be with someone is to share in their joy, is to share in their struggle, and is to share in their pain. To be with someone is to accompany them, for the long-haul. To be with someone is to make a promise, and to see it fulfilled. This, my friends, is what Jesus does for us.
The story we gather around today/tonight is not just an historical event that we pause to memorialize. It is a promise that we gather to celebrate, and to remember. “To you is born this day…” These two words: “to you…” I believe they are the most important words in the story…maybe even the most important words in all of scripture. They are the words of promise. They are the words that remind us that Jesus didn’t just come as a King, he came as your Messiah. He came to be with you.
The implications of these two words are astounding. Through God’s promise to be with us, we not only learn that God is love, that God will not give up on us, that there is no length or depth to which God will not go to reach us; we also learn something about ourselves and, indeed, the whole of creation:
- That we have worth
- That we have dignity
- That we, and all those around us are children of God, loved beyond measure.
God came to dwell in ordinary human flesh and in this way makes our lives holy.
I… I need a Messiah. I need a Savior who will stand alongside me in the days that are easy…and in the days that are hard. I know that you do too.
We all experience the brokenness of life…a world that can seem out of control…the list of things we struggle with can feel like a catalog:
- Broken relationships
- Financial troubles
- Problems at work…problems at school
- Health issues
- Bad decisions
- Marriage struggles
The list is long. And while God makes no promise to solve all of our problems, these words spoken by the angels to the shepherds echo tonight, and remind us that Jesus promises to come stand with us in the midst of the mess.
But implied in these words is also a challenge, and a reminder. The meaning of Christmas cannot be just about us. God also calls us to stand with others…to be with those in need.
As people of faith, God calls us to stand with:
- The sick and the dying
- The poor
- The refugees
- The oppressed
- The hungry and the homeless
- Those who have not heard of God’s love
Because tonight, Jesus steps into the mess of the world to be with us, we cannot help but stand with those who are in need.
My prayer for us today/tonight is that we remove the metaphorical headphones from our ears, and that we look around…that we nod and smile at those around us…that we build relationships with all of our neighbors…especially those in need, and that we make a commitment to be with them.
My prayer is that we receive the gifts of Christmas. Yes, the ones wrapped in paper and bows that bring smiles to each others faces. But even more importantly, that we receive the gift that comes to us tonight in the cradle. For in the cradle of the Messiah, we find the gift of light and love.
The gift of God with us.
Thanks be to God!