The Present


Christmas Eve
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
December 24, 2015

This past week I had the great pleasure of getting to see the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, with my almost 9 year old daughter.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it!

But I found that re-entering the Star Wars universe made me reflect on one of the more iconic statements from that little green sage, Yoda, in the pinnacle of the original trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back.

In an extended monologue about the Force, the Jedi master Yoda takes his three-fingered hand and squeezes Luke Skywalker’s shoulder saying, “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”

It’s a statement that I’ve always wrestled with, and even more so around Christmas time.

As a father, I often find myself in the role of gift wrapper, and I ruminate on how to match the right wrapping paper and box size with its appropriate gift.

In the realm of Christmas presents, the “crude matter” Yoda refers to is the exterior wrapping that contains the gift inside… and based on his wise advice, focusing too much on that instead of the luminous, gift-filled interior is folly.

And yet as we come to this moment… in the very present moment in which the Incarnation is made real among us once more, I have the need to claim that both wrapping and gift matter.

There is a priority structure for sure: gift, and then wrapping, but the mystery and beauty of God becoming human in the person of Jesus is that IT ALL MATTERS.

It’s all true, I might even say! All of it.

It is true that in the beginning of creation, there was no divide between humanity and the divine…in the very fabric of creation God’s love and fullness were entirely manifest to all creatures…no mediation, no wrapping, no containers even though diversity abounded.

Once Eden was lost, God was present to God’s people in dreams and visions, and when slavery and oppression threatened to sever the bond between Creator and created for good, God accompanied the liberated slaves upon the way that led through the wilderness, putting on a wrapping of canvas, cloud and fire, and using Moses to mediate the law.

God moved with the people, and moved in the world to effect justice.

It wasn’t long before the wanderers became established in the promised land, and they traded their prophets for judges, their judges for kings, and a mobile tent of meeting for a fixed house of worship… a temple container in which the people could come and meet with their God.

There was nothing inherently wrong with such a grand and fixed container. Its beauty, like the beauty of fine wrapping paper, pointed to the larger beauty that could be encountered within.

But when the powerful began to mislead people… attempting to prioritize the wrapping for the gift, and confusing the Temple for the God who had created, liberated, and sustained them…God chose a unique and wonderful way to respond and proceed.

Tonight we gather in this magnificent container of a church, made beautiful through restoration work and through flowers and candles, to celebrate the moment in which wrapping and gift became harmonized once more.

The glory of the Incarnation, which is God choosing to be one with humanity fully, is that all the presence and the movement of creation and the tent of meeting are retained while adding the most important of elements…namely that God is now fully present to all the rising and falling of our fragile humanity.

The wrapping of this gift was most important… a fragile little Jewish body, born of an unwed mother who had become pregnant in an unbelievable manner…a virtual nobody in the scheme of the world’s power politics where the Empire, Caesar and his minions dominated.

“God chose what is weak in the world to shame what is strong” wrote St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians…and this fragile gift of a child of comes wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.

As Jesus grew and went about life in the world, God’s strength and power was made evident to the poor, the lame, the weak, the outcast and even the powerful who had eyes and ears to see and hear.

Jesus was luminous in birth, and God’s light would shine through him all the way to the cross and beyond as he destroyed death forever and made the whole creation new through the power of the resurrection.

We have been witnesses to this majesty and grace and wonder, and yet as we gather here this Christmas Eve in 2015, I imagine that you, like me, ask the question “So what?”

What difference does it make if wrapping and gift are united in the person of Jesus Christ, and how does that change the world even today?

We live in dark times.

Wars cause refugees to flee their homes, divisions and disagreements between peoples and nations proliferate, and it feels that the whole creation is at a global tipping point of no return.

We witness tragedy, feel the sting of loss, know the tears borne of desperation and despair all too well.

The Incarnation…Christmas…the Gift of God becoming one with our humanity reminds us that the power behind all creation…the unmoved mover…the potential before the bang…is so identified with the force of love, that it cannot help but be bound fully to us and our humanity.

In sickness and in health.

In joy and suffering.

In miracle and in crucifixion.

God claims the wrapping of our fragile humanity as God’s own in the person of Jesus, and because of the mystery of the Passion, all of us…all our broken humanity and our failures…all our glory as shining and luminous human beings… is wanted and loved by God…in fact, employed by God so that the reign of light, love and peace may be made more fully real on this earth as it is in heaven.

You matter.

Your hurts and pains, your joys and celebrations, matter to God, because God is human and God’s body is no longer a tent, or a fixed temple, but rather a mystical communion.

We are members of the body of Christ, and we are participants in the fullness of God as we gather at the table…as we live out the ministry we have learned through Jesus, and as we recognize that while our individual humanity is indeed cherished and important…just like beautiful and appropriate wrapping paper…the gift of our luminous connection is paramount.

Yoda was partly right.

We are luminous beings.

But we are also this crude matter, and the Incarnation values that and sanctifies it.

As you go from this place, back to presents under the tree, back to a world with needs and problems, will you take with you the hope and joy that come from God joining with us in this magnificent way?

Will you embrace your humanity and the humanity of others, fully…in the way that God has?

Wrapping matters. The gift within matters.

Both make the present real.

May you be inspired to embrace the fullness of the Incarnation once more this year, and may you likewise allow your humanity and divinity to shine luminously in this world.

God knows we need it now more than ever.

That is why we have the present.

Don’t waste it. Share it.

Let it shine!

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