Magazines and media review the year in pictures. We review highlights and biggest news events and look forward with hope of what is next. Even though we are still in the season of Christmas, Christians quickly move past the baby in the manger. As Theologian Johnny Hill puts it we have shifted our attention from the manger and the baby and can now “truly marinate in the glory and mystery of incarnation.” So perhaps it is fitting that the scripture today is a collage of images for Christ – an overview from his life on earth – what he meant to us. Stitching together images/different roles Jesus held for us in a collage of sorts What does it mean to follow Christ? How do we marinate in the incarnation? The author of Hebrews summarizes well what the incarnation means by weaving together pictures/images of who Jesus was and is:
We are brothers and sisters. Christ was one of us, desiring relationship, wanting to be with us. Rather than sitting on a mountaintop and viewing human lives from afar, Jesus came into our world as a human in the muck and struggle embracing the average and underprivileged. This means to us that we are never alone. Throughout our lives in times of darkness, we are promised a light. If you have siblings, you know that not being alone doesn’t necessarily mean things are a bed of roses. A life of ease is not what this promises. Brothers and sisters, challenge and prod as often as they support. Yet, Jesus as the ideal brother will never abandon us. We are never alone. Jesus claims us and praises us in the midst of the congregations. The brother who deeply loves us.
A second part of the picture is Christ as the pioneer. Yet this Greek word meant a bit more than we give it today – it is translated differently by the major translations of the bible – meaning captain, author, leader or pioneer. Yes, he will lead the way. He leads the way in life through turmoil, suffering as a human alongside us. As author, he is still writing and re-writing the scene. And as captain he is part of the team not simply giving instruction and watching others carry it our but travelling alongside us. He leads to the goal.
When we think of perfect, we think of things being orderly and organized without flaw. Perfecting here is more like accomplishing a goal. Jesus came among us to accomplish a goal of reconciling us with God. Christ does not lead the way by getting out front and telling us what to do but rather pushes from behind and holds our hands in our midst with parables and as an example. He was a pioneer in forging into new territory, an author rewriting the story encouraging us to see things differently. Dwelling among us and in example after example working with the poor and outcast to overcome lives of fear. Jesus turned the norm on its ear showing leadership by grace rather than law and obedience through fear.
But that is far from all: Christ shatters the biggest fear - hold of death on us. We tend to be ruled by this greatest of fears, what happens after? Especially in our modern culture, we work to do everything to postpone death with medical treatments and even extremes of life support. Once someone has died, we are largely uncomfortable talking about it using many euphemisms rather than saying the words he or she died.
By coming among us and suffering death, Jesus conquered death and led the way again. Death does not mean separation from God but the opposite of openly being with God. No longer something to be feared but a final comfort, a culmination of this precious relationship. In his Christmas Eve Mass, Pope Francis said, "On this night, let us share the joy of the Gospel. God loves us. He so loves us that he gave us his son to be our brother, to be light in our darkness. To us the Lord repeats, 'Do not be afraid,' ... And I, too, repeat, do not be afraid,'" the Pope said.
The pope continues, "Our Father is patient. He loves us, he gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the promised land. Jesus is the light who brightened the darkness. Our Father forgives always. He is our peace and light."
My first call as a minister was to a church in West Fort Worth. To get there, I had an hour commute each day. Along the way, I saw many things. One of the most profound was one day when traffic we seemed to slow to a crawl for no apparent reason. Slowly I saw the reason why. One of those trucks that carry mirrors and windows had lost one of its windows – shattering the glass across the highway. Rather than just speeding along on his way, the drive had gotten out his push broom and was sweeping the lanes. All alone in the highway with cars racing by, this lone man was gathering up each piece of mirror.
For St B. Christmas Eve service, Tom Gibbon’s illustration spoke about how Jesus is the light, and we are the mirrors, reflecting that light into the world. The light is the most important, but each reflection has value too. Like the man out on the highway with a single broom, Christ carefully tends to each of us despite the odds or seeming impossibility of each piece mattering. In a world of millions of pieces with divisions constantly happening. God is gathering and holding us all together, melding us back into one big picture. Perfection, the goal is working toward unity in a world where that is not a priority or goal of the powers that be, unity with God and with others.
And, each and every scattered mirror piece is important to Christ, and has a job in how it reflects His light back into the world. Take the simple example of the man sweeping the street, he reflected God’s light into the world with something as simple as making the street safer regardless of how large the task. Look at Pope Francis. There was a record number of people lined up to attend his Christmas mass. He leads not by dictating, not from a platform on high removed from people but by speaking their language. Instead of staying behind protective barrier, he shuns many of the signs of his office and the glory of his position, By example he mirrors light in the world reflecting God’s love in his service - kissing the afflicted, washing feet of women prisoners and feeding the poor.
As we continue this Christmas season, we celebrate the miracle of the messiah. We sing and rejoice on the gift of a baby. We celebrate a brother, leader and conqueror. Moving into the new year, the light shines brightly conquering fear of death. And the Author of all creation continues to write the story reflecting off each of us We are the pic stitch woven and being woven together to reflect the light and love of Christ back into the world. Amen