Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tonight A New Kind of Birth

Coming in a few hours: I will be posting the order of service for the 11 pm to midnight worship service tonight, especially for those of you homebound due to the snow and ice storm here in the Tulsa area; for others to enjoy; all can join together wherever you are in the world and know you are virtually connected by the internet, and really connected by God.

This is a special night; we know many of those of you will be with family, will be worshipping elsewhere perhaps on this day; we also know snow and bad weather is upon us; but we will be open at that special time not because there is something especially magical and liturgically correct about it, not because it is a long time tradition with us, and certainly not because we have a big turnout (we had three the first year; five last year), but because there is always the possibility that there is someone who needs to worship, to light candles, to sing, to join in communion, and might have missed other opportunities earlier in the day, or didn't feel comfortable doing so elsewhere, or who might just have the impulse in the minutes and hours ahead of time tomorrow evening that it is something and some place they are called to be on this special night and they saw us open or saw our sign in front of our community center which looks very un-church-like; they might have had a big fight with spouse and family; they might be especially depressed; they might have just gotten out of jail or be on their way back to jail; they might have already had too much to drink for the holiday; or they might just want to be with any who might need to be there, they just might want to be a part of holding this service open for those who may never come.

We will also be open at the Center some Christmas Day as well to provide a place for those who need one on that special day, just as we held a wonderful Christmas Party this past Tuesday and sang carols and laughed and watched a Christmas movie and ate with one another, many of whom it might be their only Christmas party of the season. We also will have Christmas Sunday worship and holy conversation and common meal on Sunday Dec. 27 as usual at 10 am. On Sunday Jan. 3, though, we will encourage in our ecumenical way that all go find another place of worship for that week's worship, or go open up at the Center and just be there as hospitality and conversation for any who might come by; regular liturgical worship will resume on Jan. 10. On Sunday, Jan. 17 we will have our annual Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday in the morning and that evening at 5 pm we will march with others together in the candlelight procession for the worship service at Boston Avenue Methodist Church downtown; then on Monday, Jan. 18 in the morning we will walk with our banner in the MLK Jr. parade through the Greenwood historical section.

The homily and holy conversation we will have during the candlelight service is called "The Difference Between Mangers and Inns." It will be about finding the mangers where Hope is born, where God's spirit is born for us to find, and about recreating mangers where we can be with others on their search too. It is about not letting the Inns, the full places, the popular places, the have-it-all-together places, the safe places, draw our time, talents, treasures and spirit away from the mangers.

In her book, Hope in the Dark, author and activist Rebecca Solnit quotes the philosopher Alphonso Lingis in words that seem to capture the radical essence of Advent and Christmas, who says, "Hope arises in a break with the past. There is a kind of cut and the past is let go of. There is a difference between simple expectation and hope. One could say, "because I see this is the way things are going, this is the way things have developed, I expect this to happen: expectation is based on the pattern you see in the past...I think that hope is a kind of birth--it doesn't come out of what went before, it comes out in spite of what went before. Abruptly there is a break and there's an upsurge of hope, something turned toward the future."

God is supposed to be born in Inns, based on expectations, based on all the stories of the powerful civilizations, and it is in the Inns and the palaces that our expectations lead us to. There is always No Room in the Inns for those who carry God with them; the real invitation after that knock on the door and the mother to be and father--refugees strangers--loom in the doorway, the real invitation is from them to those of us who create Inns and live in them instead of in mangers, the invitation to follow them and leave the Inns.

And so in Christmas too we immerse in the past and traditions and nostalgia, but stay there at our peril; we haven't been waiting through Advent for nostalgia, for the realization of our expectations; we have been waiting for an abrupt disrupture of healing and justice, for the overturning of our expectations.

Each Sunday here when we gather for our worship time in our missional community we see our mission statement before us, that we exist to make visible Jesus in the world. That is of course what we celebrate on Christmas, Jesus' life coming into the world. It is why we are always, or strive to be always, a Christmas community. Making visible is another way of phrasing the Gospel of John's depiction of The Word Becoming Flesh. God isn't supposed to do that; God isn't supposed to become fragile, bounded, vulnerable, earthy, poor. But God does and calls us to the same holy ground. God isn't supposed to take shape in a body and call us to such love of bodies and Creation, but this is what Christmas hope is all about, that a different kind of God than our world expects just might show up in the mangers just around the corner and on the edges of our cities and towns.

It is why, more than any other response we get here at our A Third Place Center---from all the things we do and hold during the year, or just from being open for someone---the response we get the most is "I am surprised this is here" and once they find out more about us and how we operate out of radical trust and grace and openness beyond creed or any other divisions among us and a commitment to have zero funds in our bank account at the end of each month, they are even more surprised we are still here.

I leave you then with a different kind of Christmas carol that captures the spirit of this different kind of birth of God, a hymn by Brian Wren, and where he has appropriately used the word Good as a kind of blessing I hope you will also read Good for God, and understand an even deeper sense of the hymn for this season we have been waiting for:

"Good is the flesh that the Word has become; good is the birthing, the milk in the breast, good is the feeding, caressing and rest, good is the body for knowing the world, Good is the flesh that the Word has become. Good is the body for knowing the world, sensing the sunlight, the tug of the ground, feeling, perceiving, within and around, good is the body, from cradle to grave, Good is the flesh that the Word has become. Good is the body from cradle to grave, growing and ageing, arousing, impaired, happy in clothing or lovingly bared, good is the pleasure of God in our flesh. Good is the flesh that the Word has become. Good is the pleasure of God in our flesh, longing in all, as in Jesus, to dwell, glad of embracing, and tasting, and smell, good is the body for good and for God, Good is the flesh that the Word has become."

Amen to all that, thanks for all you do keeping us open and praying for and with us and joining us when you can, blessings, and see you soon somewhere in the flesh, in the Word, in the continuing Christmas spirit, in the intersection of Jesus and Freedom, in Christ,


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