Welcome to our Christmas Festival.
At the door of our church during our services we place a guestbook, so that visitors can leave their names and contact information, should they choose. But many years ago, perhaps 6 or 7, this congregation said goodbye to a beloved pastor, Barrie Lawless, who retired and moved away. Many people came to say goodbye, and many of them wrote notes to Barrie. Somehow, they’re still there. One of them was from Jean Petersen, who wrote: “Thank you for welcoming the prodigal daughter and not judging why I was away so long. God bless you and many happy years.”
We said goodbye to Jean about this time last year, when she died and went home to God. I only found that note a few months ago, so I never had an opportunity to talk to her about it. I would never have guessed that she felt like a prodigal daughter. But I do know this was her home, a place where she felt loved and accepted. It’s important to have a place like that.
How do we accept one another? Why does it matter?
Ira Katznelson, Fear Itself. “These southern politicians helped save liberal democracy so successfully that they ultimately undermined the presuppositions of white supremacy.” Saving liberal democracy meant breaking down some of the barriers some participants defended. You might call it resolving inherent contradictions. You might call it justice. It reminds me also of the civil war, which was fought over slavery, with the North’s initial goal of preserving the union, but with the revelation that the union could not be preserved half-slave and half-free. During the New Deal, somehow, by staying in the democratic process, the family of the country kept talking, and eventually, some of those contradictions between democracy and supremacy have been overcome—because liberal democracy cannot survive when one class of people is preferred. Not that contradictions and injustices have been overcome, and there has been a good deal of backsliding and false starts. One only has look at our present situation to see that. So, there is much to repent, but perhaps we can hope that greater progress still may come, if we keep the process going, if we keep the family together, if we keep the family talking.
In the end we are a human family. In every human face we see, we see our own flesh and blood. Every totalitarian regime, every dictator and tyrant, every supremacist and evil ruler, begins with the dehumanizing of others. But here, in this building, in this congregation, we say that all of us, from every tribe, nation, class, creed, color, orientation, gender—all of us, are born human—we don’t get to choose anything else.
Jakelin Caal Maquin was a human child in our care, and she died in our care. It was a result of a dehumanizing policy. It was the result of looking on people as strangers, outside the family. Not here. Not in a Christian place.
We often say that Christ took on our humanity and became one of us at Christmas. We don’t say enough that God included us thereby in his life. We don’t say enough that God overcame the differences between the holy and unholy. Incarnation is the sanctification of our human life. Christians believe the Son of God became our brother so that we might become part of the family of God. No less a distance separates us from one another, but rather a much greater one.
So, if you think about anything this Christmas, in the divisions in your own life, you can think of that little baby, born outside the home, but inside the human family, who overcame the chasm between the sacred and profane, the holy and unholy, and perhaps that child will lead us all into love.