The following sermon entitled, ‘It’s here’ was preached Christmas Eve, December 25, 2016 by Pastoral Associate, Jenna Meyers.
The story that we re-tell this night that captivates our attention each year, this story that takes hold of our hearts as we invest our hope in a family’s well-being, that they will find safety, that this new life will be well… this story becomes our story. As they find refuge, we find refuge with them.
On this most tender and heartfelt, joyous and vulnerable night, in the darkest part of the year, we send out our hope for well-being. And the answer to our prayer finds us here.
The prophets of old have proclaimed it to us before with voices booming. When the people prayed for Shalom, for that fullness of well-being, the response came as resolute as thunder: “What are you asking me for? What you are looking for, has already been given.”
And this time, this night, our searching for well-being comes with a birth story, that the answer might grow and unfold within ourselves in the telling. The peace, the well-being you are searching for is here.
Beneath a star-studded sky, a child is born. And one by one, the community gathers, helping to tell the story. Mary, Joseph, a multitude of the heavenly host, the shepherds, the animals each with part to tell. And the women from Bethlehem town come too, as the poet Joy Mead imagines, carrying bread freshly baked. “They come, as at every birth: to wonder at tiny fingers and toes, to welcome holy flesh and blood, with the joy of touch and kiss and story, to look deep into innocent infant eyes, and ponder, “What will this child be?”’
In our search for well-being, the response comes: it is here.
We are pulled to go with the women and the shepherds and see this thing that has happened, that the Holy has made known to us. And we are brought to a birth amongst the animals, making human, making earthy, the Christ story. In its humanness, in its earthiness, we encounter something sacred. As we peer into the eyes of the baby, we can’t help but be taken by wonder. Seeing this life that is of God. That is of us. That is its own.
Birth is a time of wonder. But birth is also a precarious, vulnerable time when the baby and the family need tender care. There is the possibility of death, even in the best of circumstances. If you are near the birth, you are paying attention. You are in the marathon with them. You are affected, changed, invested in the birth going well.
When the baby comes we don’t have everything figured out. It takes time for the baby and parents to come to their own rhythms, to learn how to read the cues. And so we need the community to gather to help us find our way. To support us in practical ways, offering food and rest. And in story, reminding us that others have gone before us and we will be able to find our way too. We need the community to gather and participate in welcoming and celebrating this new life.
As I find myself alongside the women carrying their warm bread, I imagine my partner’s father’s beautifully braided Challah, golden brown, glazed and shining. A tradition his family kept and that he made his own. Every Jewish holiday, David and I would arrive at his parent’s house and Eugene’s challah would be welcoming us through the kitchen window.
As tonight is also the first night of Hanukah, I am reminded of the first night of Hanukah a few years ago. David’s parents invited us over for dinner. We were still in seminary and it was finals week. Struggling to manage our anxiety, we didn’t feel like we could leave our papers. So Joyce and Eugene brought Hanukkah to us. They brought the candles, the latkes, the brisket, and the challah and left it for us to share. As we lit the menorah, and set the table, our inner children filled with joy in what had been a pretty unbearable night. In the love of parents, we were reminded it’s here. In the bread, in the tradition, was also the community of David’s family for generations helping us to make it through.
About a year ago, Eugene, who is in his late 80s, had been going through some health issues with his heart and had been living with quite a lot of anxiety. He had gone into the hospital several times. When he thought things were going to be okay, something would go wrong again. The medication he was taking was causing awful side effects. He was becoming pretty deflated and was beginning to face his mortality. He installed a security system so if he were to die, David’s mom would feel safe. He got her a new car that he thought would last her the rest of her life. He put together a manual on all of his finances, what accounts and contacts we would need to know and made sure we knew were the manual was.
After living in this state for some time, Eugene decided to try undergoing a new procedure that carried with it a lot of unknowns and its own risks. In anticipation of the procedure, we went over to share a meal. As we were doing the dishes, I asked Eugene if he might be willing to teach me how to make challah once he recovered. I asked with some timidity, as I was not his blood relative. But I asked in case I should have children, that the tradition could be given to them. Surprised, Eugene lifted his eyebrows and said, “Oh. OK. Yes.”
As Eugene went into the hospital, the family was awaiting news, hoping for his well-being. When he was discharged, those who had already seen him, told me that Eugene had something he needed to tell me. Something they were not allowed to tell me. Curious, when Eugene walked through the door, I listened as he told the story of the dark night he endured. Left alone in his hospital room, anticipating the coming procedure, he was overcome by anxiety, unable to escape the worry, awaiting what would come.
And then Eugene remembered my request for him to teach me to make the challah. So he began to go through the recipe. He imagined how he would teach me, step by step. What I would need to understand about bread. What kind of flour he would start with, and what he would move to next. How he would teach me about what the dough should feel like. How to use my body to have enough strength to kneed the dough. Over and over, he practiced his pedagogy. The challah, and how he would pass it on, became his meditation.
He found well-being here — in the recipe he made over and over again that had become part of his body. In the bread, the family comes. The immediate family, and the communion of saints. They’re there in the bread rising. They’re there in the smell. Helping us to remember we can get through. We have what we need. It’s here.
As we relive the birth of Jesus, we are reliving our own stories. In our searching for well-being, we are given a Christmas story that meets us as real people.
We may not think we know the way, but as we return once more to this birth story, we find we do know the way, even if we don’t fully understand it yet. It is located in the body. Our own body, and the Body.
The prophets of old yelled down in their mischievous, firecracker, resolute voices, saying what you are looking for you have already been given. And this time, as we pray, “Show us the way to peace,” the loving response comes in the story of birth. It’s here. It’s here in the heart. It’s here, growing in the midst of the darkness. It’s here in the community, in the singing, in the gifts, in the storytelling, in the wonder, in the creating space, in the breaking bread. And it comes with vulnerability and fear. What you are looking for, it’s here.
Jenna Meyers, Associate-Pastor Elect
*A note: Eugene has since regained his strength, has been encouraging the next generation to practice making challah (under his supervision), and has just celebrated his 60th wedding anniversary with his beloved Joyce.