Sermon: "The Divine in the Dirt," Dec. 24 2014 Christmas Eve

St. George’s United Church
December 24, 2014 – Christmas Eve
Scripture: Luke 2:1-20

“The Divine in the Dirt”
by Ryan Slifka

 An earthy 14th century painting of the nativity complete with midwives

An earthy 14th century painting of the nativity complete with midwives

A friend of mine who works with children and young adults once told me a story of deep Christmas disappointment. They were preparing the Christmas pageant that year as usual. They divided all the parts up—Mary, Joseph, Jesus. Angels, shepherds, wisemen. A few sheep and one that could have either been a cow or a camel. They weren’t quite sure. And so it came time for the quick rehearsal before the big performance. But one of the shepherds—an eight year-old boy—stood off in the corner. Head hung low. Shepherd’s crook dangling off his side. Through the whole performance.

My friend approached him after the rehearsal was over. And she asked him what was wrong, immediately assuming the worst. Is it something at home? Are the other kids bullying you? Don’t you like being a shepherd? Each time he shook his head. “No,” he finally muttered, head still hung down low. “We already did this play last year.” He was obviously disappointed in his faith community’s lack of creativity.

But go through this same script? Year after year after year? Jesus, Mary, Joseph. Shepherds. Angels. Maybe it’s because Christmas is one of our favorite and most treasured holidays. It could be warm childhood memories. It could be the gathering of family and friends all in one place. And/or it could be that this story is often paired with a stiff serving of eggnog on the side. Maybe this story sets a sort of festive holiday background. Filled with positive associations.

It could be all of these. But I wonder if there’s more to it than that. A while back, when I was in University, I had a good friend who considered herself a deeply spiritual person, and even attended a faith community with some regularity. She always struggled with a lot of the traditional stuff around Christianity. And the Bible. She didn’t always feel connected. And she wasn’t entirely sure of what she thought entirely about angels, miracles, or resurrections. But when it came to Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, she felt a deep sense of connection. That the story takes place in this small town and in this earthy stable. To two struggling people, soon to become parents—something so small in the grand scheme of things, but so big and life-changing when it actually happens to you. And that the shepherds—everyday working people—are the ones who get the news first and meet the holy face-to-face. For her, Christmas meant that the divine is not somewhere out there in the universe, but comes as close as this mother nursing her newborn baby. Something about that always clicked for her.

And maybe this is why we still tell this story hundreds, thousands of years down the road. Every year. Because in the Christmas story, God is imagined not as a cloud off elsewhere. Not as a book on a shelf somewhere. But as a human being, born in a shed. And at one with the muscle and the bone of human life right here, in our midst. That the holy is to be found in the dirt, right here on earth. And not in the sky. [1] This is what the angels report as “good news of great joy for all people.” And even now continues to bring us great joy. Why we keep telling this story over and over again. Every year. This is what finally clicks.

So, friends, where ever you may lay your head tonight. Whether stable, single detached home, apartment, emergency shelter or doorway. Whether the season totally clicks for you or not. Leave tonight, carrying this child with you wherever you go. Knowing, like Mary and Joseph, that the divine has come close. And is with you and for you always. Already at work bringing peace, joy, and hope to you and our world.  And, like the shepherds on their way to Bethlehem, be prepared to be surprised by new life. In the middle of your every day life. Be ready to be surprised by good news. And great joy for all people.

[1] Giles Fraser, quoted in "Preaching the Incarnation" by Peter K. Stevenson and Stephen I. Wright.