A move to a new place is a scary thing to do. Indeed, psychologists tell us that a move is as stressful as a death of a close relative and that both are the most stressful thing one can experience. When God “moved” to this planet and into time for the first time in God’s existence, it must have been a vulnerable move. No need to rehash it. Baby-flesh. Stable. Mother. Father (with some celestial PTSD). Loud cattle. A king with a death warrant for babies. High priests with lists of who is naughty and nice. Roaming star-gazers with presents. Sometimes I think I believe it simply because nothing so preposterous could possibly have been made up. Well, made up and lasted so long.
When I moved to New Mexico to begin a new life raising money for people experiencing homelessness, it was a vulnerable move. My friends came over to my house to help me pack up for the move across and into the desert to this farm-house on 20 acres – absolute solitude behind a locked gate. They took family heirlooms and gently wrapped them in paper, placing them into boxes to be unwrapped in New Mexico. The image above is one of many wrapping papers which played host to moving-grafitti on my possessions. My friends had written messages on the paper before wrapping the items and secreting them into boxes. Dozens and dozens of papers had these love-notes on them when I went to unpack them in my new home. And as I arrived and began life on this new land and in this new role, I took strength from the words on the wrapping of the things of this life – things my nieces and nephew will one day own. Things my great nieces and nephews will one day own. Things my great-great-nieces and nephews will one day own. We are here briefly.
Jesus comes to us as The Word enfleshed. A message from this weird, pathologically shy God, slipped onto a simple “page” from a nowhere town in a nowhere country. Over centuries we have created the church. We even took the word “God” from the word “Deus” which came from the word “Zeus” … so the trappings we humans have developed to package God in our tiny traditions have questionable accuracy. But I am sure that God likes our attempts to approach even if, like a baby, we point and say the wrong words, words we have heard along the way and misuse.
I have saved these love note-wrappings from my friends in Denver. I sometimes fondle them as a source of strength. Jesus is a Word wrapped around the gift of freedom. a message written on flesh and bone, now no longer accessible. Now all that remains of Jesus is words on pages and energy – light – hope – in hearts. And the story we repeat with bread and wine.
I love the work I do to ease human suffering of those who are experiencing homelessness and the suffering of the rich who donate. God wrote to us a love note. We call the note “Jesus.” It is a wrapping of sorts. These words Jesus left in our scriptures are a reminder both that we are loved and that we have work to do. Both.
I keep looking for what Jesus said about worship and church attendance, church management and church buildings …and I am having trouble finding many of those words. It was not much of his message. But the words I DO see…see clearly on the paper…are about easing human suffering, giving money away and caring for the marginalized. Do you wonder how much Christmas cost this year? The liturgies. The gifts. The lights. The cards. The salaries. The food. The wrapping paper. I do not know how much it costs to make Christmas happen. What I do know is how much it costs to place a homeless person into housing with support services.
May we, this Christmas, see the message written on the Jesus-gift from God. That we are loved. That we are to love others. That we are to love God, by whatever name we call it. A homeless baby. A homeless prophet. A homeless priest. A homeless criminal. A homeless Savior. The words on the wrapping say “love” but the thing God wrapped was a homeless person.