December 25, 2014
Merry Christmas! Time for show and tell!
I received this sweatshirt from my niece and god-daughter Gabriella for Christmas 19 years ago—her first Christmas ever. It is marked by her beautiful feet. They are much bigger now. In fact, these feet accompanied me to Peru last summer, and this past semester they walked across a college campus where she is studying. They are still—and I’m not biased—beautiful feet. They pattered across my heart from the very beginning, and neither of us will ever be the same. I take very seriously my responsibility to her not only as an aunt, but also as her baptismal sponsor. Where her feet go is enormously important to me, and I know that where my feet go cannot fail to be observed by her.
Jesus was born, like Gabriella, with little tiny feet. Feet so delicate that they had to be covered up when he went out in the cold, feet so cute that his mother could not help nibbling on them, I am sure. Little flesh and blood feet. Feet that would later be pierced with a nail and bleed till they turned white and cold.
Jesus’ beautiful baby feet, while reminding us that the attributes of little humans are remarkable, are not exactly like other human feet. Oh yeah, ten toes and all that, but these feet speak! They bring good news with them! They proclaim peace to the violent regions of the world—from Ferguson to Ukraine, from Wall Street to Bethlehem. These feet may be tiny, but they announce the generous news of salvation. They are the light of God to those who are sitting in darkness.
Now it’s not that in the arrival of Baby Jesus God spoke to the world for the first time. God has always been on speaking terms with us, even when the reverse wasn’t possible. It was a Word from God that set the planets spinning in their orbits and created the duck-billed platypus and the Venus flytrap. It was God’s Word that spoke to Moses from the burning bush and to Joseph in his dreams. It was God’s words that the prophets uttered over and over to the people who wandered away from God and from one another. God’s words permeate all of history, all of life. But somehow, people had forgotten to listen to the words. People had grown deaf to the story that the pitter-pat of beautiful little feet tell. God needed a new way to utter a Word to us. A new expression of the Word that would encourage us and challenge us and bring us home.
And so God sent a Word without any words. God sent a Word that couldn’t speak prophecies or preach any sermons, that could only wail and grunt. God sent a Word requiring 24-7 attention and devotion—a Word of vulnerability and tenderness, a Word of hope to an embattled world, to the ruins of Jerusalem. God “bared his mighty arm”–but it was a little tiny arm–proclaiming profoundly all God wanted to convey about touching us.
And the thing is, God is still doing that. Perhaps, like Gabriella, your little babies have grown up, so there’s no literal baby in your arms this Christmas. But God’s baby is still here for you. This baby still extends a pudgy little hand in blessing, and still yearns to be held close to your heart, to be rocked and sung to in a way that will soothe you both.
This Word is a Word for all people, a Word for the World! And it is a Word for you. A Word of God’s nearness and peace not only to the global family, but also to whatever war rages inside of you, inside your family or neighborhood, or community or universe. This is God’s Word to you and it’s so magnificent that no other words can speak adequately of it. It is a light that shines in the darkness, beyond any description of it.
Some of you may not be able to glimpse that light today. It happens some years. Our nation is reeling from a year filled with all manner of violence—perpetrated by lawbreakers and law-makers. Perhaps you or someone you love is troubled or sick. Some of you may not feel the wonderment of Christmas, but feel like you’re still stuck in Advent, still waiting. All the blue paraments have changed to white, but you are still yearning for the answer to your longing to arrive. You may even hear the angels sing, but it seems their harmonies are only for others, not for you.
How do we talk about the joy of a baby to families who are mourning the death of their children, like those in Pakistan or Sandy Hook? Or to those who have experienced infertility or a miscarriage or stillbirth? What do we say to people whose dreams have died, or whose hope is aborted? In the face of grief, we may find ourselves dumbstruck. We may be angry that God has allowed terrible things to happen. Maybe we utter the words we have to utter on such occasions to God, who surely knows what to do with them. Maybe we don’t speak a word. Maybe we just trust that the Word who arrived once before to heal the world with a non-verbal message will do so again. Maybe we hold hands and cry a little, as God must have done with Mary as she groaned with labor pains that first Christmas Eve.
Whatever you feel today, bear in mind that sometimes babies are late. Jesus may have been due today, but perhaps this year you’re on a different schedule. Maybe it is not yet “the fullness of time” for some of us. Maybe the pregnancy will last a little longer. Maybe you will find the Word arriving at your house on some Tues. afternoon in February. But eventually the Baby will come, as babies do. God keeps God’s promises, so hang onto the assurance that those beautiful feet are on their way, bringing you good news of great joy. There will be a day when the ruins of your heart will break into song.
Because the thing is, nothing can keep God away. At Christmas or some other time, eventually you will find those little feet are pattering toward you, “full of grace and truth.” Ready or not, the presence of God has come, is coming, and will come again. God has uttered into being all that is. The Word of God is a word of consolation and forgiveness and acceptance. The Word of God is a word of hope and of life and of grace. If it’s just a whisper today, trust Isaiah’s assurance that there will be a day when exuberant singing is heard coming directly from the ruins of Jerusalem. For unto you a Child is born. On you the light has shined. And all the cacophony of the universe cannot drown out this Word of Love, this heartbeat of God.
~Pastor Susan Schneider