Pitched a Tent

Christmas Day - December 25, 2020
Isaiah 52:7-10 
Psalm 98
Hebrews 1:1-4 [5-12] 
John 1:1-14

“Pitched a Tent"

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

How does one celebrate Christmas when everything that we normally do on Christmas cannot happen?  Normally, I would have had two services last night where over 200 people would have joined together to sing, “O Come all ye faithful.”  Normally I would have gotten home around 1:30 in the morning completely hopped up on adrenaline, country ham sandwiches and coffee.  I left church last night around 9:30pm with only 4 of my live stream committee members and my choir director’s family in the sanctuary.  Each person there had a job and where only there because I could not be in five places at once.  Today, after I leave here, I will go home and spend Christmas Day with just my family and my in-laws.  We will not be traveling over all of creation as we normally do.  We will not get to see extended family.  We will not gather around a large dining room table, stuffing our faces full of ham and turkey.  We will not gather around a tree to watch each other open gifts.  Instead, this Christmas will be very different and unforgettable.  

I remember my first Christmas at St. John’s.  I was running around trying to make sure I had everything ready to go for my first major Christmas Eve here when I got a call that a church member was in Winchester Hospital.  This was back in the day when pastors could actually go and see people in the hospital.  Immediately after I got the phone call, I dropped everything that I was doing and drove down to Winchester Hospital to see Carroll.  I thought it was awful that Carroll, a pastor spouse and one of most beloved shut-ins would have to spend Christmas in the hospital.  Carroll should be with her family, I thought.  She should be with her grandchildren as they open Christmas gifts.  This is not fair, I thought.  It was cruel.  

As I sat down and told her how awful it must be to be stuck in here on Christmas, she responded, "You know, we should celebrate Christmas every day."  And then she went on to tell me, and I am paraphrasing here - she said it better but I didn't think to write it down word for word, "Being in here doesn't mean I will miss Christmas, it just means it will be different." Carroll just recently passed away from Covid19.  I never got to tell her how much she taught me that morning I visited her at Winchester Hospital when she asked she said, “we should really celebrate Christmas every day.”  We should.  And I am not talking about the family gatherings, the ham and turkey, the traditions that each of our families has to celebrate this day.  No, I am talking about the the most basic idea of Christmas - That God is present with us.  That God is present in both the happy moments and in the most difficult of days—when it feels like the darkness is so thick that you can cut it with a knife.  For as John says in the gospel reading for today:  The light shines in the Darkness and the Darkness does not overcome it. 

That is a powerful message and its meaning has been lost because of our modern day technology.  Do you know how blessed we are to have artificial light sources, cheap-artificial-light?  All we got to do is flip a switch and the light shines in the darkness.  Candles can be purchased at the dollar tree.  Oil for candles is not that expensive at all.  Yet in the ancient world in which Jesus was living, in order to have just 15 minutes of artificial light at night, it would cost almost a day's wage (like a $120 in today's world). 

You know, now-a-days, we live in a time when light pollution is a real issue.  Yellow Stone is looking to designate part of their park as "big-sky" which would therefore deny any artificial light sources from taking over the sky.  We live in a time when darkness is not all that big of a problem - yet in the day of Jesus, the phrase, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it" would have been a powerful phrase indeed to say and make.  

That the light from our savior is more valuable than a day's wage, can last for more than 15 minutes, and can outshine any darkness.  This light source has apparently been around since the beginning of time when God created the heavens and the earth—for some reason we rather sit in darkness. Perhaps it is because when one sits in the dark, it is a lot easier to hide ugliness of one’s sin.  But to those who welcomed the light, the light dwelt there and lived among the people.  The Word of God became flesh and lived among us and the glory of God's son shined bright and has lit our world since that fateful night in Bethlehem, when all the world stood still as the savior was born into a very dark stable in Bethlehem.  We were completely unprepared even though prophets had long foretold of his birth and coming.  We made no room, we made no extra effort.  The savior of the world came in the most unglamorous of fashions and lived among us.  As my wife so beautiful summed it up on Christmas Day in 2017, “Phenomenal Cosmic Powers! Itty Bitty Living Space!” Our Lord, who was there when all of creation was formed, who holds the same power of the Father in the palms of his hands, dwells and lives within our midst, taking the form a child. 

That idea of dwelt/living among us gets lost in translation.  Our biblical translations really do a nice job of making those words sound pretty and flow beautifully together but the actual Greek is "pitched a tent."   The Word became flesh and pitched-a-tent among us.  It is very similar to the Israelites traveling in the wilderness for 40 years and carrying around a tent called the tabernacle where the required sacrifices could be made to God in this tent. John uses this this idea of pitching a tent to imply a deep intimacy, not just a passerby or temporary guest. While at the at the same time noting that the coming of the Word-made-flesh was something different, and not fully native.  That his coming would be different and is different.  

To celebrate Christmas every day means that we look for where God is pitching a tent in our world still today.  Where do you see Christ pitching a tent in your life?  Where do we see the tent? The Word of God becoming bread and wine for us to hold and eat.  What about at your home? Around the dinner table?  On that Christmas Tree? The light that God is offering us is so much better than the cheap, artificial light that our current world has to offer.  I have seen God pitching a tent in all kinds of places this past year.  God pitched a tent among the scientists who put in long hours to develop a safe vaccine that might put an end to Covid19.  God has pitch a tent among the medical professionals who continue to risk their lives as to care for complete and utter strangers during this pandemic.  God has pitch a tent among the teachers who work tirelessly to teach children over zoom.  God pitch a tent among the 2600 jeeps that gave a special parade for a little boy named Georgie, who has been at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital since October 2019 and is suffering with Stage 4 neuroblastoma and who has returned home to spend what could be his  Christmas with his family. God has pitch a tent among the waiters or waitresses who has not seen a stable paycheck since the pandemic started.  God has pitch a tent among the countless number of men and women who have lost their jobs during this pandemic.  God has pitch a tent among those who have lost loved ones to Covid19 this past year and have not yet been able to grieve with others their loss. Pitching a tent doesn’t mean things will get better, but it means that God is with us.  Where is God pitching a tent today?  I can assure you, God is not hold up in our church buildings.  Covid19 has taught us that the Word of God cannot be just contained to sanctuaries.  The Word of God is with you, wherever you might go, dwelling with you, shining that light to cut through the darkness that you might find yourself in.  

We live in a world shrouded in darkness this day. Even with so much artificial light, we still lose our way.  We walk around saying that 2020 has been an utter failure of years and yet, we cannot even begin to see that God has been with us this whole time.  We forget the gospel truth that God has pitched a tent in our world. When God is present, failure is never an option. When God is present, even the dead are raised back to life.  When God is present, even the sinner is forgiven.  Christmas teaches us that there is no place our Lord won’t go to be with you.  Whether it be in a cave, a locked room, a classroom, a hospital room—God will be in those places and it is your job, my brothers and sisters, to tell the world that the darkness will end.  It cannot overcome God’s light, God’s promised hope.  Church, even though you find yourselves stuck in your homes this day, you are still tasked with the beautiful and holy obligation to not pitch the tent, but to tell the world God is present, to point to those places where you see God present, that Christmas is not a day we celebrate, but is a way to live—God present with us even in the darkness. Come out of the darkness this Christmas, out of the shadows and see the hope that this season brings because you might be the light that some one might need this Christmas. Be Christ’s candle sticks and go light up the world.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

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