Bishop John Shelby Spong ~ June 16, 1931 – September 12, 2021
Bishop Spong provided a much needed place for those of us who did not connect with traditional theology. We love you Bishop Spong. You will be missed! Funeral services will be held at St. Peter’s, Morristown, NJ and at St. Paul’s, Richmond, VA. Dates and times will be announced as soon as they are available

Make Room for LOVE To BE Born Right Here and NOW!

 

 
What a strange Advent this has been. In the midst of this pandemic, so many of our rituals and customs have been set aside as we struggle to do our part to slow the numbers down and bend that curve. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have much of an appetite for John the Baptist’s ranting and raving this Advent Season. Public health leaders, politicians, and pundits of every kind, who are endlessly pleading with us to wear our masks, wash our hands, stay home unless it is essential to go out and worst of all don’t gather with friends and family for Christmas period. I don’t need some ancient prophet’s words echoing down through the generations crying to us from the wilderness, pleading with us to, “Prepare the way for our God!”

This is a strange Advent Season in my home. We put up our Christmas tree this year. Normally, we wait, choosing to stay in the dark blue hues of Advent. But this year, knowing that it will just be the two of us, we have made an extra effort to decorate our home with all the trappings of Christmas. We’ve even violated our custom of trying not to play Christmas carols until Christmas. So, I’ve been hearing “O Holy Night” over and over again. It seems a little premature, but that line is stuck in my head, “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices” “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices” Lord knows our world is weary. So how shall we rejoice this year?

I wonder as I wander around the empty sanctuary here, what will it be like not to see many of you on Christmas Eve. I’ve been wondering what it will be like not to hear the familiar sounds of your voices singing with such reverence. I’ve been anticipating my own sadness at not seeing many of you raise your candles in the darkness, as we sing Silent Night with such hope and gladness. Considering all that we have been through this year, and all the challenges which lie ahead in the coming months, is it any wonder that the sentimental aspects of our beloved Christmas traditions are haunting our Christmas preparations in the midst of the countless restrictions we are trying to cope with? Oh, how we long, not for the darkness of reality, but for the darkness of our visions of some “Silent Night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.” Our imaginings of the way things were, just might get in the way of our ability to experience any peace, or any joy, at all this Christmas.

Within the contours of our imagined sentimental Christmas scenes, the mess of life is all too often swept under the carpet of straw in that stable, upon which a gorgeous holy family stare placidly at adoring shepherds and angels, under the perfect glow of a celestial star. Even when we shift our gaze from the delightful stable, to our own remembered Christmas gatherings, the mess of life is all too often swept under imaginary rugs, so as to ensure that the reality of life in community can’t threaten to undo our visions of perfection. COVID may be an unwelcome visitor this Christmas, but every Christmas has its unwelcome visitors. I think that’s why the anonymous-gospel-storytellers allow John the Baptist to strut his stuff way out by the Jordan river somewhere, in the wilderness, so as not to have him intrude on our treasured tales of Jesus’ arrival. There’s nothing silent nightish about John the Baptist as he rants and raves about the need for people to, “Repent!” and warns anyone within shouting distance that it is time to prepare a way for the arrival of someone who will turn everything they have ever known around. For to “repent” literally means, “to turn around.” Repent! Stop going in the direction you’ve been going all your lives and turn around, prepare a new way of being.  Prepare the Way for our God!

Christmas, no matter how you understand Christmas, Christmas isn’t much like Silent Night. The “way” which John the Baptist is screaming at us to prepare, is not a way which will accommodate sweeping the messiness of life under the straw, or indeed, even under the rugs of our imaginations. Christmas is so much more than the Silent Night of our longings. Christmas, if it is any kind of Christmas at all, includes all the messiness we bring to it. Think about it. The story of new birth isn’t pretty. It is not tidy. Nor is it silent. Life is chaotic. Life is messy. Life is far too full of contradictions to ever be adequately captured by our sentimentality.

If your visions of Jesus’ arrival resemble the scene depicted in Silent Night, you really haven’t understood the chaos which new birth brings. Christmas is not about heavenly peace. About as close to Silent Night that Christmas ever gets is “shepherds quaking at the sight!” We ought to be quake to at the very idea of LOVE being born in us. Christmas is a radical subversive parable which was written to challenge whatever peace we have made with the chaos in our lives, a parable carefully crafted to reject our impulse to pull the covers over our head and pretend that life isn’t happening the way it is happening.

Christmas is chaotic precisely because it is in the midst of chaos that we encounter the ONE who IS…that’s IS, with a IS with a capital I and a capital S. IS the third-person singular, of the verb “to be” the ONE who IS – the one our ancestors knew as YAHWEH, the great I AM – that’s AM in capital letters, the first-person singular of the verb “to be”, YAHWEH the I AM, is not off in the heavens looking down at some angelic nativity scene. The ONE who IS, is as Jesus taught us with his very being, the ONE who IS, is LOVE, and as LOVE the ONE who IS, is to be found in all the muck and the mire, right smack dab in the midst of our chaos. For not only do we live, and move, and have our being, in the ONE who IS LOVE, this very ONE, this DIVINITY, this GOD if you will, works in, with, through, and beyond us, in all of our chaotic mess, constantly creating hope in the midst of despair, creating justice in the midst of injustice, creating vaccines in the midst of this pandemic, and offering compassion, kindness, and LOVE, as we work together to keep as many people as possible safe and healthy. Even in this COVID chaos in which we are locked-down, LOVE is working miracles. We are not alone in this chaos.

Christmas is the celebration of new birth and birth is chaotic, messy, frightening, painful, and anything but silent! The parable of Christmas is a raw story, a bare bones story, to which we have added our own desires for a Silent Night. Whatever our imaginings about that holy night may be, one thing we can know for sure there was nothing silent about Jesus’ birth. It was a birth like any other birth, with all the mess of blood, urine, mucus, pushing, screaming, and amniotic fluid. This birth had more than its fair share of fear and anxiety. Whatever Jesus’ birth was it was not the Silent Night of our dreams.

Jesus birth was just like your birth and my birth. Like every birth, Jesus birth was chaos filled with the excitement and the worries which come before something wonderful happens. I suspect that Jesus’ young mother, Mary, was screaming, cursing, pushing, crying, bearing down, and sore afraid. Christmas was not a silent night and therein lies our hope for the world. For a god who is a creator of angelic, surreal, nativity scenes, would be a god far removed from the chaos and the reality of our lives. A god who is devoid of the messiness of life, isn’t any kind of god that I want to be a part of, let alone worship. I need to know that we are all part of something so much bigger than we can begin to imagine that isn’t some kind of distant creature, aloof, and separated from the reality of our lives. I want to be part of the SOURCE of ALL, ALL that IS, a deity, a force, a LOVE which is capable of working in, with, through, and beyond us to bring order out of the chaos, to inspire scientists to create vaccines. I want to be part of the ONE who weeps with those who weep, who suffers with those who suffer, a LOVE which dances, sings, laughs and rejoices whenever and wherever LOVE emerges in the midst of the mess and chaos of life. I want to be part of a LOVE which is beyond my ability to comprehend; and yet a LOVE which works in, with, and through those who work to heal the sick, care for the dying, toil away in laboratories seeking vaccines, who seek for justice for the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized, a LOVE which works, in, with, through, and beyond us to heal the wounds of the afflicted. I want to be part of a LOVE which challenges us, and at the same time, a LOVE which allures us in ways which empower us to live fully, love extravagantly, and be all that we are created to BE.

The Christmas story is the story of such a LOVE; LOVE which emerges in the midst of chaos, LOVE which empowers us to prepare new ways of being LOVE, which is born in a baby, for this is how LOVE is always born. This is how LOVE was born in you. At your birth LOVE came into the world and in you lie the hopes and dreams of all the Earth. “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices. Fall on your knees, fall on your knees” and LOVE will be there.

LOVE which is the MYSTERY we call, “God” is gestating in you. We will get our Silent Night. It may not be the Silent Night of our sentimental rememberings, but like all nights, it will provide darkness from which we can give birth to LOVE; LOVE powerful enough to bring peace on Earth and healing to the nations.

Prepare the way for LOVE to be born here and now! Trim your trees. Mull your wine. Wrap your presents. Sing carols. Zoom, Zoom, Zoom as we must. Reminisce to your hearts content as you, stay home. Stay safe. Keep your neighbours safe. Make room for LOVE to be born here and now! LOVE which IS, BEYOND, the BEYOND and BEYOND that also. Our CREATOR, CHRIST, and SPIRIT, ONE. Amen.

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