December 24, 2017: Over the Fence

December 22, 2017

Reflection: Over the Fence Dec 24, 2017
Psalm 130:5-8; John 1:1-18

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. The Word, God’s Wisdom, God’s creativity, God’s Spirit, became flesh and dwelt among us. Literally, God pitched a tent among us. God’s right here, not up in some distant heaven. God’s right here, right now.

Do you remember the character Wilson from the TV show Home Improvement? Wilson and the accident prone Tim Taylor would have conversations over their shared fence. We never saw all of Wilson’s face, but despite that he dispensed words of wisdom and helped Tim through the dilemmas of his life. One commentator talked about how Wilson was a kind of “God-figure” – present in a mysterious way, giving guidance when needed and being supportive no matter what kinds of messes Tim got into. Being human of course, Tim managed to make a mess of Wilson’s words – usually mixing them up in such a way that they made little or no sense – like when he confused the advice of the Buddha with a type of Swiss cheese!

It makes a wonderful image for what happens when we try to follow God’s wisdom, but it somehow gets lost in the translation. I wondered today, if you could speak to God, as Tim speaks to Wilson, over the fence and eye to eye, what would you ask God? Would you remember what God told you? Do you think it would make a difference in your life?
Just take a moment or two to sit with that image….

Joan Osborne recorded a song some years ago called “One of Us”, that raises similar questions. “What if God was one of us?” This is how some of the words go:
If God had a name, what would it be?
And would you call it to His face?
If you were faced with Him in all His glory
What would you ask if you had just one question?
And yeah, yeah God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make His way home?
If God had a face, what would it look like?
And would you want to see?
If seeing meant that you would have to believe
In things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints and all the prophets
And yeah, yeah God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
(“One of Us” is a song written by Eric Bazilian (of The Hooters) and originally released by Joan Osborne. Released in March 1995 on the album Relish and produced by Rick Chertoff)
For the song-writer, Eric Bazilian, encountering God “in the flesh” brings with it a host of questions about what one has to believe in. For others, encountering God means questions and reflections on what one needs to do after the encounter. How does one respond to an encounter with the Word in human form?
In the first century, it meant following a man named Jesus, a tradesman from Nazareth, who embodied the Spirit and Wisdom of God in his life and his teachings. It meant leaving everything behind and going with him to minister to the sick, the damaged, the oppressed, the lowly. Today, we see a sculpture of a homeless Jesus on a park bench out front of church, so realistic that the police get calls about it! Today, we see artwork of Jesus in a breadline, Jesus and his family fleeing Bethlehem for Egypt along with other refugees, songs about God riding a bus trying to find his way home like everyone else. Artists and theologians alike recognize that the Word comes, not in a form of might and power, but in the form of vulnerability. What would it mean to model ourselves on that kind of vulnerability?

I was particularly drawn to the poem Descent, Malcolm Guite, set to music by Winnipeg musician Steve Bell. There are a few lines of the poem in your bulletin as part of the gathering thought. The rest of the poem continues:

Where chiseled marble seemed to freeze
Their abstract and perfected form
Compassion brought You to Your knees
Your blood was warm

They called for blood in sacrifice
Their victims on an altar bled
When no one else could pay the price
You died instead
When no one else could pay the price
You died instead

They towered above our mortal plain
Dismissed this restless flesh with scorn,
Aloof from birth and death and pain
But You were born
Aloof from birth and death and pain

Born to these burdens, borne by all
Born with us all ‘astride the grave’
Weak, to be with us when we fall
And strong to save
Weak, to be with us when we fall
And strong to save

That contrast between power and vulnerability puzzles us; that the God we call “Almighty” might dwell in weakness and limit divine power to be with us. But here’s the question: is power really limited by vulnerability, or is there power in shared suffering, in radical self-emptying, in love so profound that it will give up everything for the sake of others? This is the mystery of Incarnation. This is the mystery of Christ among us, Emannu-el.

It seems strange, but it is in this very mystery that light comes into the shadows of our world. The power of the Divine can seem so grand, so distant, so far from human experience that it feels like God really doesn’t have anything to do with our day to day lives. But the story of Jesus says, “No, actually, it is in our day-to-day lives that we most experience the wonder of God’s presence. God dwells in the midst of everything, and all life is blessed by the presence of the Word am on us.” For John, it is about whether you can see God alive in the world, or not. Some don’t seem to have the eyes to see; but John’s Gospel affirms that God can open our eyes and we can see Christ among us, still, today.

Madeleine L’Engle, in her book about the Mystery of the Incarcation, “Bright Evening Star” wrote: Where there is love, there is Jesus.” This seems like a good place to end our reflection on this last Sunday of Advent. I want to invite you then, just for a few moments, to remember the people you love, the actions that have shown love to you and that have shown your love to others, the moments when love has felt powerful and present in your life. Take a few moments to do that now…

We thank God for the in-dwelling Word who brings Love into our lives, each and every day. Amen.

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