Saturday, January 07, 2023

Words of Wisdom from Three Wise Women

And the Word Became Flesh: Words of Wisdom from Three Wise Women
Christmas Day 2022 | Susan Russell | All Saints Church, Pasadena

And the Word became flesh … the scriptures tell us.
And a weary world rejoices … the hymn sings to us.

Familiar words Comforting words Christmas words
Words we’ve sung, said, and heard (many of us) for as long as we can remember …
maybe even before we can remember.

And so, on this Christmas Day in the morning,
it is the very familiarity of these familiar words
 that can become their challenge.

 It is the challenge to hear them … to actually hear them …
on this Christmas morning as words not just describing
a once upon a time long, long ago moment to us –
but as words that are for us –
words that are about us in this time,
in this place, in this moment.

And so on this Christmas day in the morning,
I want to add to the words we’ve heard
from our beloved ancient texts some words
from those I’ve come to think of as the Three Wise Women of Christmas:
Madeline, Marilyn, and Rachel ...
words that help lead us to claim the power
 to be the change we want to see in the world
still struggling to become the Beloved Community
God created it to be.

For as we gather this Christmas day in the morning
the world we live in is too weary,
the challenges we face are too great
and the opportunities we have are too enormous
for us to claim anything less this Christmas Day
than the full promise of what we gather to celebrate
with our prayers and our praises,
our hymns and our hopes,
our carols and our candles.

And what we welcome this morning
is nothing less than the promise of new life
in the birth of this Christmas baby.
We are called to wonder again
at the power of a love great enough
to triumph over death
as we claim a Christmas Truth 
greater than any of the traditions it inspires:
the mystical longing of the creature for the creator –
the finite for the infinite –
the human for the divine.

It is a longing that transcends culture,
religion, language and custom –
and it is a longing that is represented for us as Christians
in this Christmas baby
all wrapped up in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

The sudden, amazing, and incomprehensible gift of grace:
a God who loved us enough to become one of us
in order to show us how to love one another.
Loved us enough to become human
in order to show us how to become fully human.
Loved us enough to yearn for us
to become the creatures we were created to be
rather than settle for being the creatures we had become.

And the Word became flesh.

All the traditions we inherit
all the rituals we practice
all the customs we claim
are designed to point us to that truth.

As sacramental people they are for us
“outward and visible signs of the inward and spiritual grace”
of God’s love come down at Christmas.

Poet, author, and life-long Episcopalian –
and our first Wise Woman Madeline L’Engle --
offers these words of reflection
on that great mystery of the Word made flesh
we gather to celebrate this morning in her poem “The First Coming:”

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

And the Word became Flesh ... 
not because the world was sane or anymore ready for it
in first century Palestine than it is in 21st century Pasadena
where we struggle to make meaning
out of the violence, polarization and fears
that surround us in our beautiful and broken world.

And no one better to help with that “make meaning” part
than theologian and Wise Woman Marilyn McCord Adams
of blessed memory who reminds us:

"God not only creates; God resurrects. God makes the worst count for good by bringing life out of death. To be on God’s side, we must bend ourself to efforts that foster life, inclusive community, and creativity. Collaboration revives hope because it convinces us: we are safe because, and only because, we are loved by God!"

No matter what, we are safe because we are loved by God.

And that, beloved,
is the essence of the Word made flesh
we celebrate this Christmas morning
in the amazing gift of our brother Jesus
born of our sister Mary.

Which it brings me to the third of our Wise Women –
Rachel Held Evans – who offered these wise words
centering Mary in the miracle of the Word made flesh:

God trusted God’s very self, totally, and completely and in full bodily form, to the care of a woman. God needed women for survival. Before Jesus fed us with the bread and the wine, the body and the blood, Jesus himself needed to be fed, by a woman. He needed a woman to say: “This is my body, given for you.” … 

To understand Mary’s humanity and her central role in Jesus’s story is to remind ourselves of the true miracle of the Incarnation— and that is the core Christian conviction that God is with us, plain old ordinary us. God is with us in our fears and in our pain, in our morning sickness and in our ear infections, in our refugee crises and in our endurance of Empire, in smelly barns and unimpressive backwater towns, in the labor pains of a new mother and in the cries of a tiny infant.

In all these things, God is with us—and God is for us. God is for us … and made present among us in the Word made flesh in order to convince us that we are safe because we are loved by God.

And it is out of that safety –
out of the sure and certain knowledge
that absolutely nothing can separate us from that love –
that we can risk – we can dare.

We can be the change we want to see
in the world that is crying for change:
for hope, for light and for joy.

It is out of that safety that we can risk trying again:
countering the powers and principalities
of violence, discrimination, and fear
with love, justice, and compassion.
It is out of that safety that we can allow
the promise of being fully alive
outweigh the fear of loss and vulnerability.

And it is out that safety that can we dare to claim
what Howard Thurman calls “The Work of Christmas:”

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken, 
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace to all,
To make music in the heart.

And so on this Christmas Day in the morning
I pray that you can hear the familiar words of Christmas
not as once-upon-a-time long-long-ago words
but as words that are for you words that are to you
words that are about you
in this time, in this place, in this moment.

And I pray that the words of the Three Wise Women
will continue to lead us all forward into God’s future
as we align ourselves with the grain of the universe --
the love that came down at Christmas
as the Word made flesh.

Because my brothers & sisters & gender fluid siblings,
the world we live in is too weary,
the challenges we face are too great
and the opportunities we have are too enormous
for us to claim anything less this Christmas Day
than OUR call – each and every one of us –
to become the word made flesh
as the Body of Christ sent out to do the work of Christmas.

We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell.
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.

Merry Christmas.


Madeline L’Engle: The Ordering of Love (Writers' Palette Book) (p. 343).
Published in her collection A Cry Like a Bell (1987).

Marilyn McCord Adams: Ghastly Interruptions

Rachel Held Evans: Rachel Held Evans with Jeff Chu,
Wholehearted Faith (New York: HarperOne, 2021), 3–5, 6.

[Image: Lupita Three Wise Women 1 by Emily Lupita Studio]

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