Jan 1st, The Work of Christmas Begins, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
A Part of the Series:
Jan 1st: The Work of Christmas Begins, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski.
This is how Eugene Peterson, in what’s Called a message, describes the mystery of the birth of Jesus in John 114. The Word, the Word being the source of all love and and goodness. The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. Generous inside and out, the Word became flesh. The words we live by create the worlds we live in.
What are the words you live by? Fear, gratitude, disappointment, hope, despair, business, awe, resentment, forgiveness, judgment, acceptance, anxiety, peace, greed, generosity. Take a moment. Consider. What are the words?
What are the words that dominated your mind, heart, spirit and life in 2022?
The words we live by create the worlds we live in change the words we live by, and our world can change. This is actually a true story of a writer who wrote a short story, a love story of only 500 words. And he put an ad on Craigslist and somehow convinced 500 people to have one of the 500 words in his love story tattooed on their body. I know if it was my luck, I’d end up with the tattooed on my body. The writer then invited all 500 to gather with the words that were inflest so that the story could be told.
The fullness of this love story could only be told if each person showed up with the Word they were carrying on their body and the birth of Jesus. The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood to show us how we in our flesh and blood might embody the Word. And that word is love. Consider this awesome and terrifying thought. You in your fragile, imperfect, messy, beautiful, broken self.
You are God’s word of love for a weary and suffering world.
What words have you been living by in the past year? What words do you long to live by in 2023? Again, the words we live by create the world we live in. Change the words we live by. Our world can change.
There’s a couple who gave me permission to tell their story. He’s a successful, wealthy businessman. They’re both well known in their community. And his wife confided to me, I’m filing for divorce now. On the outside, the trappings of their life were wonderful.
The beautiful home, beautiful children. Well, were expected in the community, active in their church. Something wasn’t right.
Something important was missing. She said, he’s given me absolutely everything but himself, and that’s the only thing I really care about.
Later, I sat down with him. I asked if he understood the seriousness of the situation. He seemed kind of distant and unfeeling at first, as if how it didn’t matter. But I really sensed he was covering up, hiding, protecting himself, that he was really hurting. And much later, he told me about an incident on the playground when he was ten years old.
Ten years old, he had a huge crush on a pretty, golden haired girl, and he kept his infatuation hidden. He didn’t dare verbalize how he felt. I mean, she was popular, outgoing, friendly, and he wasn’t any of those things. But he got to thinking that the only reason she didn’t like him is that she didn’t know he liked her. Ten year old boy logic.
So he plotted and planned and memorized a few words he heard somewhere. And the next day on the playground, he went running up to her, oblivious that she was surrounded by her friends, oblivious that he was entering a no man’s land for boys his age. He went right up to her and just blurted out something. But it wasn’t what he practiced. It was how he really felt.
It wasn’t smooth at all. It was awkward. It sounded like this I love you, Molly. And all of a sudden, it was as if all of his clothes had been stripped away. Every child on the playground was staring at him naked.
Molly laughed and said what? And Molly’s friends all gathered around her like some entourage for a queen standing behind her. When Molly laughed and she said, well, I hate you, he ran off the playground into the classroom, not able to hold back his tears, feeling totally humiliated, hurt. And he wished he could just disappear. He grabbed his jacket, he told me, and he ran home, all the way home, never telling his parents or anyone else what happened, embarrassed, ashamed.
But he told me that he made a commitment, a commitment inside himself that day. Ten years old. I will never, never trust my heart to another person again.
Safe, protected, armored, defended are all words he carried with him the rest of his life. He equated strength with never showing emotions and weakness with vulnerability.
The words we live by create the worlds we live in. And for all of us, there are some words we carry deep inside of us that we may even have forgotten. Are there. There are some words we live by that may have protected us at one stage in our life that are no longer serving us. Now, this man is in his 60s.
He’s made a ton of money. He has power, prestige. He’s considered successful by his peers.
But he’s missing what he desires the most.
He doesn’t have the connection and relationship with his children he would love to have. His marriage is about to end. He’s generous with his money, but he realized he has never been generous with his heart.
I asked him, what are you going to do? What can I do? He said, get a divorce, I guess.
I said to him, you were ten years old. Maybe you did back then the very best you could do. Maybe as a child you didn’t know any better.
But you’re not a child any longer. You can make different choices. You can change. You can carry a different word in your heart.
I said to him, you need to tell your wife. You need to tell her your story, the whole story.
Something broke through because he began to sob. And he said he didn’t think he had shed any tears since that day when he was ten years old on the playground, we prayed together. It was actually a few days after Christmas. We prayed for something new to be born. We prayed for light to break into the relationship.
We prayed for a different word, a word of grace to be embodied in the relationship and in their earth. We prayed for love to find a way.
Some weeks went by. His wife did talk to an attorney, and he finally got the courage to say, let’s talk. They walked across the street to a park across the street from their home, and they sat down on a bench. She didn’t know what he could possibly have to say, but if he was willing to talk, she really wanted to listen.
He mustered up the courage to do something he’d never really done before, which was open up, be vulnerable. Tell her how he felt. Tell her what had happened. Tell her about his decision to protect his heart.
He told her that he started therapy to try to heal and change the words that he carried in his heart.
And he did something he had never done before.
He asked her for forgiveness.
They are not really sure of the road ahead. They’re not sure whether or not they’re going to be able to overcome the years of resentment and hurt.
But they said what they are sure of is that something new is being born between them.
The words we live by create the worlds we live in, change the words we live by. Our world just might change the Word, the source of all love and goodness, became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. The Word became flesh and blood to heal the words and the wounds that we carry so that we might embody and carry in our fragile, imperfect, broken, beautiful, selves god’s healing word of love for a weary and suffering world.
Before we put the Christmas story away for another year, until next December, I want to take just a moment. Just a moment to remember once again Mary and a word she spoke. Now, Mary, a country girl. Unremarkable, unrefined. Most scholars imagine Mary to have been about 14 years old.
Tradition tells us she was drawing water for her family. Typical job for a peasant girl. So it was an ordinary moment in an ordinary day, in an ordinary life. And God’s angel pops in and says, you, you, Mary, are going to give birth to God. In the Eastern Orthodox church.
The title of Mary is Theoc. Let me see if I can get this right. Theotocus. Me and my Greek whatever good. Theotocus.
Theotocus. So in the Eastern Orthodox Church, they call Mary Theotocus, which means something absolutely beautiful. God bearer. God bearer. God was about to change the course of human history, and God chose this young 14 year old girl to carry to bear this word of hope.
Is it such a stretch, then, to consider that you, too might mean that much to God? That you too, in some way, are to be a God bearer, that you, too, are to carry a word of hope, to partner with God in telling a new story for this weary world of ours?
Mary says to the angel, I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be to me according to your Word.
Now, are we actually to believe that she didn’t pause or hesitate just a little bit before she said that? Are we to believe the fact that she would be on wed, pregnant, disbelief, scandalized, rejected, humiliated are we to believe that never actually crossed her mind?
I wonder I wonder where Mary found the strength to say yes, to say yes to God. I wonder if Mary could have said no. I mean, what if what if what if Mary had said, thanks. I appreciate it. Thanks, but really no thanks?
Could Mary have declined God’s invitation to carry the Word, to carry the Word through which God would tell this amazing, wild, crazy love story for the world?
I have to assume so. I mean, who knows? Maybe 99 others did say no before Mary.
But this young, unlikely, ordinary girl took a deep breath and said, let it be. I will be a servant of your love and carry your Word full of grace and truth. And in one of the most unlikeliest places, through the most unlikely person, love was born.
I think of Mary’s extraordinary, definitive yes when she could have said no. I think of this world that shouts no and lives like a clenched fist with a closed heart.
I think of how many people how many people carry no deeply embedded in their hearts because of the wounds that they have experienced from this world. I think of the man in the story I told earlier.
How many of us are like him, defined and confined by the wounds that we carry. Afraid to take the risk of love, mary’s yes gave birth to a new world of hope and possibility. Meister Eckhart said, we are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born. We are all meant to be God bearers, carrying a word of hope. In this world, the words we live by create the worlds we live in, change the words we live by.
We just might change the world we live in. So on this New Year’s Day, what if we didn’t worry about New Year’s resolutions and simply chose a word, one word, to carry with us into this New Year? And what if we chose the word yes?
What would it look like to carry the word yes in your heart into this New Year? What the birth of Jesus means is that God has said and that God continues to say yes. Yes to each of us and that yes dwells as unfished, as embodied deep within each of us?
What would it look like? What would it look like to begin every day in this new year, contemplating that there is a yes that dwells deep within your heart, inviting you to carry that word into your day, into every encounter you have with others?
What would it look like to be the yes for those whom the world repeatedly, repeatedly shouts no, friends, you are not what has happened to you in the past.
Only love has the final word in who you are.
And love has said yes to you and continues to say yes to you. So I encourage you write the word yes on a card and place it on your bathroom mirror so it’s the first thing you say to yourself in the morning. Write it on a card and put it in your pocket so that you carry that word throughout your day. Put it on your bedside table so it’s the last word you say to yourself before you go to bed.
Let yes be the word we carry into this new year. I mean, honestly, what if we agreed together, all of us together, to take time every day? Maybe for you it would be 1 minute, others five minutes, ten minutes, 20 minutes, just every day agree to sit and contemplate, hold one word yes.
And to say yes. To say yes to the love that dwells deep within us.
To rest. To just take a moment to rest and delight in the idea that God continues to say yes to us, healing the wounds that we carry.
And then all of us together, saying yes to spending the day living as God’s yes to the world.
So, again, what words dominated your mind, your heart, your spirit, your life in 2022? What words do you long to live by in 2023?
Say yes to those words.
The words we live by. Create the worlds we live in. Change the words we live by. We just might change our world.
May it be so.