Our readings tonight have one theme, one message: Hope. The prophets of Israel, despairing in their exile, hoped for God to bring them out of the foreign land and return them home. We hope to be rid of the demons that haunt us, that make our days unhappy and our nights unsleeping, to remember that our children, whether of our body or of our heart, are still worth loving. We hope that our lives, too, obscure though they may seem, are not useless or in vain.
And behold, our hope is not idle. Our hope has been answered—through the birth of a child, God made flesh, God come to earth to be with us. Emmanuel—God is with us. Can anything be more wonderful than this? God came to be with us in a shape we could recognize. We are never without God—God is very present with us, always. But sometimes, our human eyes cannot see God as clearly as we would like to, as well as God would like us to see God. And so God came to be with us for a little while, as a human being.
And that’s what we celebrate tonight—not the shepherds and the angels and the candles and the tree, certainly not the presents and cookies and eggnog and fancy clothes. We celebrate the fact that our creator loves us, God wants us to know God—and so God came to us. “For God so loved the world…” For God so loved us.
Soon after DP and I moved here, we found a tract on our car windshield. One of those small pamphlets, I think you can get them fifty for five dollars or something. It was stuck under the windshield wiper, and the title read, “Certainly you may do as you wish.” The writer was trying to convince the reader to go to church instead of sailing or playing golf or playing roulette or horseback riding—at least, I’m assuming those were the alternatives to church, from the pictures on the cover. Anyway, there was some language in the booklet that made me nervous—“your soul could be required of you at any time,” “you have made choices about how to spend your life,” “sometimes we are selfish and rebel against God,” that sort of thing. I had no idea if there was a person in the neighbourhood who made a habit of putting those on cars, or if it was directed specifically at us, if we had a homophobic neighbour. I asked our neighbours who are also a lesbian couple, and they said they had gotten one or two, but they didn’t know if they had been targeted either, or if the tracts had simply been placed on all the cars that happened to be parked on the street at the time when the person was placing them. When the tract appeared a second time, I talked to PF (Pastor Friend), who had been very welcoming and supportive. Dear PF! He didn’t think it meant anything, and was very reassuring and comforting—remember, DP and I were still getting to know this place and our neighbours. For all we knew, we had a homophobe down the street. So we decided to keep an eye out and see who else—if anyone—got a tract next time one appeared on our car.
A few days later, after my office hours were over, I went out to my car. There was something on my windshield, tucked under the wiper, wrapped in plastic. It was a small booklet.
“We are not alone. We live in God’s world,” it began. And it went on.
“We are not alone, we live in God's world. We believe in God: who has created and is creating, who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh, to reconcile and make new, who works in us and others by the Spirit. We trust in God. We are called to be the Church: to celebrate God's presence, to live with respect in Creation, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope. In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.”
It was a child’s book of the United Church of Canada’s creed. Tucked into the front was PF’s card, with a note of encouragement. He had left me a gift, a sweet taste to take away the alarming bitter flavour of the tract, and he left it on my windshield to remind me that people who wish me well are watching me also. And do you know, I have never found another one of the tracts on my car?
We are not alone. God is with us. In the coldest and most fearful of times, when everything seems too much—when you are in exile, or when those demons of fear seem about to overwhelm you, when you don’t know if what you are doing is worthwhile, when you don’t know why you bother, when you don’t know who is friend and who is not—remember. God loves us so much, God is with us. We are not alone.
This is what we celebrate at Christmas—God’s presence with us, now, tonight, and forever.
In the many names of the one loving Creator, amen.