"and lo I am with you alway"

and lo I am with you alway

by the Reverend Richard Matters

Miles Scott is a five-year-old who fights against the dark forces of leukemia. Maybe that is why he identifies so well with superheroes. Miles dreams of being Batkid, so last month, with the help of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Miles wore a Batkid costume, rode in the Batmobile next to Batman, and cleaned up Gotham City (aka San Francisco). Little Miles did not just embody Batkid to the people of San Francisco, who turned out by the thousands to make his dream come true; he also embodied hope and the gift of life for all of us. Strikingly small in stature, Miles ran to rescue a woman tied to a pretend bomb on the trolley lines, then he thwarted Riddler’s attempt to rob a bank. For those with eyes to see, Miles, in his short, five-year-old body, helped us know the grandeur of God’s love.

After hearing the awe-inspiring angelic message and seeing the glory of the Lord, the shepherds hurried to find the human child whom they were told  would reign as the next King David. Yet when they arrived, whether they recognized it or not, they beheld God’s own self embodied in that newborn baby. For the joyful message of Christmas is that God has a body! How small the body of Jesus must have looked to the angels who gazed from the stars above. Lying in a manger newly born, the infant Jesus embodied the immensity of God’s joy in creation and God’s hope for humankind. Listen to the shepherds as they hurry to Bethlehem:

Poem I                                                                                                               (read by a volunteer)*

Rise shepherds, though the night is deep,

Rise from your slumber’s dreaming!

Jesus, the shepherd, watch does keep,

In love all humankind redeeming.

Hasten to Mary, and look for her Child,

Come, shepherds, and greet our savior mild!

By finding the Christ child lying in a manger, by telling Mary and Joseph about the angelic message and the heavenly host, the shepherds became part of the story of how God-so-loved-the-world. In other words, as they told their story, the shepherds embodied the joy of Christmas. Like the 20,000 San Franciscans who waved signs, booed the villains, and made Miles’ dream come true, so the shepherds make our dream come true, because, by God’s grace, they still embody for us the joy of Christmas.

Poem II

Bring your pipes and bring your drum,

Call the shepherds all to come;

Hasten quick, no time to lose,

Don’t forget your dancing shoes.

Frolic we right merrily:

He will laugh with happy glee,

Yes, and smile, and we will dance,

While He claps His tiny hands.

My guess is that no vision of angels propelled you to church today. Am I right? Most likely no multitude of the heavenly host singing praise to God guided you to this cattle stall. Even though we did not rush to see a mortal monarch lying in a manger, we did come because of the story that embodies God. And now you and I have been incorporated into the story of Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and magi. Their story is our story of God embodied in Jesus Christ. And so we bring our adoration this evening/day, and we offer gifts of money to support the work of the body Jesus Christ called the church, so that all the world may know the joy of Christmas.

Poem III

So come we running to the crib,

I and also you,

A beeline into Bethlehem,

Hopsa, trala, loo!

Oh, baby dear, take anything

Of all the little gifts we bring,

Take apples or take butter,

Oh, have some pears or yellow cheese,

Have nuts or plums or what you please.

Like the shepherds, we tell the story through our own experience of being forgiven and renewed. We tell the story of beholding God’s majestic glory as we gaze at the expanse of stars and galaxies. And perhaps we confide to others that we know—just know in our bones—that God is near.  We tell the story of Emmanuel in our own lives, because others, in their turn, have been our shepherds, and embodied God’s love for us.

God has a body, and we are it! The last two weeks All Saints’ embodied Jesus for the people of Big Sur in their distress over the fire, and the grief of their loss. In fact, tomorrow/today we are hosting a community-wide dinner—a sort of Babette’s Feast, including five turkeys—at our mission of Santa Lucia in Big Sur. For you and I embody God not so much in super-heroic feats, but in the ordinary contours of our lives. We’re simple folk on the road to Bethlehem.

How does the world know that God is with us? That the savior transforms hearts? How do the people of San Francisco, Jerusalem, and Juba in South Sudan know that God brings peace, joy, and love? How? Because you and I turn with wonder from the fields of our work and leisure to come to this Bethlehem. Because we make haste Sunday by Sunday to join the heavenly host in glorifying Christ. Because, after being formed into Christ’s body, we are broken apart and sent home to tell our story by embodying God in our own lives. For this is Christmas, and God has a body. Hopsa, trala, loo!

*Three anonymous Austrian shepherd’s poems