First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Dr. Jane Florence
December 24, 2017 – Christmas Eve
Scripture: Luke 2:1-11
Sermon: “Seeing Jesus”
I absolutely love the song, “Some Children See Him” and these images that the children carried into our chancel. I realize that they can be a bit startling to some.
I was standing at the checkout line last week at a craft store. It’s a craft store I prefer not to patronize due to their company’s employee health care stance, but I made an exception. Let’s be honest there’s no way not to overhear the conversations of those in front of you in a line. We can pretend to look at the magazine display at the checkout or study the candy bar selection if we don’t want to appear to be eavesdropping, but we can’t deny it, we hear the conversation before us. So, the customer ahead of me, caught my attention when I heard her say “Jesus wasn’t white.” I don’t know if she really said it so loud that I thought everyone in the store had heard her, but my ears perked up. I looked around to see if others had whiplash and listened all the more closely to hear how this would play out.
She continued to speak to the clerk across the counter, and I learned that she was a classroom art teacher. Her high school art class ended up in a conversation about the color of Jesus’ skin while painting their art projects. Evidently not everyone in her class agreed on the same pigment. The teacher navigated the conversation and was accurate in her answer. Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t pale skin, with blond curls, blue eyes. Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t amber skin with almond eyes. Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t a Cherokee or Apache American native. Jesus of Nazareth was a Middle-Eastern Hebrew, with brown skin, dark hair and eyes. Jesus of Nazareth was a man born to a Galilean woman of Jewish faith and ancestry 2,000 years ago. He was born a Middle-Eastern Jew and died a Middle-Eastern Jew.
I believe that Jesus was fully human baby with swaddled, wet bottom and hunger cries that kept his momma up at night. He grew into a fully human man who got blisters on his feet and splinters in his hand and coughs and colds just like the rest of us. I believe he awakened to the presence of the fully Divine God which formed the ground of his being, uniting him to all that was, is and ever shall be. I believe Jesus spent his entire life learning the Way to union with the Divine which took him into union with all creation and lead him to share that Way with those who would seek it as well.
Jesus of Nazareth became Jesus the Christ whose Spirit was not eliminated by the Roman Empire crucifixion, but instead was freed from the limitations of this earthly experience and continues to teach and lead us into reclaiming our wholeness in God our wholeness with one another and our connection to all creation.
I use the language of our tradition when I say that each of us bear the image of Christ – not the Middle Eastern baby or brown skinned Galilean, but the Christ that is beyond skin and within souls. Our journey is looking to our left and right, looking to our loves and our enemies, looking to the last and least, the poor and outcast and learning to see the Christ. Our journey in this life is to learn to see the Christ (the essence of God’s spirit) in all.
So some children look around their family and friends and community, they see Love bronzed and brown with dark and wavy hair as they see Christ caring for them. Some look around, and they see the Love shared with them in almond-eyes of family and friends. There they learn to see Christ sharing godly love. Some see God’s love in velvety dark skin and some in soft pale hues; each learn to see Christ – the Love of God – in the faces near to each.
So manger scenes of Jesus’ birth – beneath trees, on fireplace mantle or tabletops – are varied around the world. The Madonna scene depicted in art and miniature replicas is varied for all the peoples of the world. Yet, in all the variations, I will venture to say that someone is missing from the crèche manger scene.
There’s a Mary and a Joseph in each tiny manger as minimum. A baby is added if not throughout the season, surely by nightfall tonight. Some have an angel suspended overhead or a star to guide the seekers. There are shepherds and kings in some. To that we have added donkeys and cows and sheep or camel. We have added so much. Still there is someone missing. One that’s not mentioned in scripture, but I feel pretty certain would have been present. Besides Mary and her baby, perhaps the missing figure from our crèche is the most important figure for she would have been with this teenage girl as Mary birthed her first born. There would have been another at her side, the midwife.
Sorry guys, I’m sure Joseph was a great guy and all, but Joseph would have been out pacing by a campfire, wringing his hands, questioning the stars or perhaps drinking some wine. In her culture, the midwife would have been the one at Mary’s side. It’s too bad she is left out of our manger scenes. She is vital to the story.
It was a midwife who would have tended to Mary and guided her through the birthing process. It would have been her hand Mary squeezed so tightly and her hand to mop Mary’s sweating brow. Her voice to encouraged Mary’s spirit and calm her breathing through pains and moans of childbirth. Into her arms, she would be the first to hold Mary’s baby boy in this world. It would have been she to count toes and fingers and wash his newborn head and lie him naked and vulnerable on Mary’s chest.
You see, she is vital to the story of long ago, and she is vital to tonight’s tale, and we are she. We are the midwives who birth Christ into the world today. Each of us help birth the Spirit of Christ love, Godly love through our love. It’s by our words of kindness, our deeds of goodwill, our prayers of compassion, our eyes that see and bring Christ in the world today.
We help to bring Christ, God with us, Immanuel in the miracle and mystery of looking into each face – each brown, black, almond, pink, tan, rosy, face with love. Looking at the people around us, people to your right and left, to see evidence of the word made flesh and God’s continuing Advent into the world. Looking at the people beside us, people to your left and right, to see an inexhaustible reservoir of God’s possibility and potential. Looking at the people around us, people before you and behind you, you see people unique in experience, swirling with need and laughter and tears all struggling to find expression in this world. Looking at the people around us, people near and people far away, we see people holding precious beliefs, important values, laboring for something, waiting for something. Looking at the people around us we see God’s love born afresh awaiting in mystery to be made visible, sacred and vulnerable.
There we find ourselves in our manger scene. There we find the Christ Child. As we roll up our sleeves, grab towel and basin, practice our own birthing breath and commit ourselves to be midwives of eternal love, God’s love, Emanuel with us.
May it be so. Merry Christmas.