Christmas Eve 2011
[Just before this meditation, our church's jazz band played a song called "Orphans of God" by the group Avalon...the lyric includes a refrain like this..."There are no strangers, there are no outcasts, there are no orphans of God." For me, the song's come to signal the promise of communion, community and the body of Christ.]
Maybe you heard the story this week about a little girl named Bella in a 5th grade class up in San Francisco. It seems that Bella overheard a bully in her class, a bully threatening another little boy named Jonny. And it wasn’t the first time. Now Bella was always troubled by big Mikey and his nasty ways. Often the little boy who was bullied would leave school with tears in his eyes. And Bella watched him quietly walk away.
Finally, it happened again; and Bella knew she had to do something. “You’re just a pathetic piece of crap,” the bully hissed at the boy. Over by the sink, where the teacher couldn’t hear. “Me and my friends, we’re gonna find you after school.” Bella watched Jonny’s face fall, and she noticed the look of ugly delight in big Mikey’s eyes.
Apparently, she’d given this some thought, and she’d even talked it over with her parents. Because right then Bella stood up, confidently, and she approached the bully at the sink. And without a moment’s hesitation, she gave the bully a big wraparound hug.
Now as you can imagine, Mikey just blushed. And he blushed and he blushed and he blushed. All kinds of red. ‘Santa Claus is coming to town’ red. ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ red. Seeing that all was going according to plan, Bella followed up quickly with stage-two of her nonviolent intervention. She got up on her tippy toes and kissed big Mikey on the cheek.
By now, most of the class had noticed something happening by the sink, and they’d turned to watch and listen. “I know who you are,” the little girl said to the bully. “And I know you are a child of God. I know you are a good boy with a good heart.” The bully’s face had turned just about the color of a big red pomegranate. And he stood as still as a Christmas candle. “And from now on,” she said, “you’re going to leave little Jonny alone. Because he’s a child of God too. And you’re gonna have to find some other way of having fun. No more bullying.”
And Bella turned then, in a hushed classroom, and sat down again. And as she did, she added, out loud: “Oh. And see you at church, Mikey! See you at church on Christmas Eve!” Because it turns out that Bella and Mikey go to the same church, to the same Sunday School every week. They’d been learning about Jesus together their whole lives. And, don’t you know, it did them some good that day. Going to church made a difference.
You see, every Sunday, at this table, we say something to one another, something like: “There are no strangers, there are no outcasts, there are no orphans of God.” And we mean it. This is the place where God recognizes and names every single one of us. This is the place where strangers become friends and orphans come home. One big family of God. There’s no doubt it was just that way at Bella’s church in San Francisco. And she’d been paying attention.
What happens here is precious, holy, sacred. Because out there, on the streets, in the market place, even in the schoolyard, the world can be hard on us. Tough on the children of God. Bullying, for example. Maybe you know someone who’s been bullied at school. The other kids make fun of the way he dresses, or maybe the way he plays piano not kickball. Maybe they just pick on him to be cruel. Call him names at recess.
Or who knows? Maybe you know someone who’s been bullied at church. There are churches like that. Where a teenager’s harassed because she dresses like a boy or she holds hands with other girls. Or maybe other kids call her names because she asks hard questions in Sunday School.
Or maybe you’re the one. Maybe the mean kids wait behind the dumpster for you to come by. Maybe they throw their pointy elbows into your ribs and warn you not to say a word. Maybe you’re the one with a knot turning in your gut when you leave the house in the morning.
I’ll tell you what. Jesus knows what bullying’s all about. That baby born on Christmas becomes a young man harassed and bullied by the world. Jesus is bullied by priests and preachers. He’s bullied by soldiers and policemen. He’s bullied by jealous zealots and competitive classmates.
But here’s the thing. Here’s the Christmas truth. God’s grace is planted in the heart of that same vulnerable nonconformist; in the heart and soul of that love child who marches to his own drummer. That’s what God does. That’s how God rolls. God invests the divine dream in Jesus, a grown man who weeps for world; a true believer who questions everything, even God; a fragile soul who bruises easily and breaks sometimes.
And for all that—just because he refused to be anybody else—Jesus was bullied by the world. They called him names. They questioned his manhood. They poked him with elbows, fists and worse. And Jesus stayed true. He stayed true to himself. He stayed true to the dream God invested in his soul. He stayed true to the tears that welled in his eyes when he saw the hungry suffer. He stayed true to the love that he felt for the sisters and brothers who had no family. He paid a price for this. For his integrity. For his courage. For his vision of things. But Jesus stayed true to the end.
You see: Jesus comes into our lives so that we can have the same kind of courage, Bella’s kind of courage. Jesus is born in our hearts so that we can show one another the same kind of love, the same kind of tenderness. Sure, this old story begins in Bethlehem, a long, long time ago, in a cave where Mary and Joseph bring a baby boy into a troubled but beautiful world.
But it continues now in us, in you and me, in Santa Cruz in 2011. And in San Francisco—with Bella and Mikey and Jonny.
Here’s what I want you to hear tonight. Christmas means believing that the God who made you made you holy. Not ordinary. Not average. The God who made you made you holy. Not just to fit in. Not just to conform. To Hollywood. Or Bollywood.
Holy! Do you understand? Do you get it? You are not an accident. You are not a mistake. If you like to dance, if dancing brings you joy, then you’ve gotta dance, my friend. Dance like the glory of Christmas depends on it. And if you like to dig your beautiful hands in the good earth, if gardening’s your thing, then you’ve gotta garden. Tend the earth, grow veggies and roses; because the world’s a better place, a sacred place, when you do what you love.
And if you’re a girl who likes to wear neckties or a boy who likes to wear pink, then you gotta be what you gotta be. The world is counting on it. Christmas means believing that the God who made you made you holy. It’s not always easy being our holy selves, being our unique and fabulous selves, wearing pink when the world says blue, or wearing ties when the world says heels. It’s not always easy following our conscience—as Bella did in her 5th grade classroom, to the glory of God. But Jesus comes to each of us, with love and with courage—so that we can look in the mirror tomorrow morning and see nothing less than the glory of God. It’s true. You can look in the mirror tomorrow morning and see Christmas. You can look in the mirror tomorrow morning and see God’s promise. “There are no orphans of God.”
There’s a dark and holy cave tonight, deep in your beautiful soul. And there, right there, a child is born. Jesus is born. In your heart. In your heart and my heart and every heart on earth. So before you go to the tree tomorrow morning, look in the mirror. Jesus is born there. God’s promise looks exactly like you; and “there are no orphans of God.”