December 26, 2021, God Is the One Who Shows Up, John 1:1-18 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
You all know that our family suffered a great loss recently. And as heartbroken as we were, and still are, I know very well that we are just one family among many thousands who are grieving this Christmas. But what I wanted to talk about was a gift we received – the gift that made all the difference even in the middle of the sadness and pain and just general bewilderment we felt when Ivy died. And that was the gift of showing up. A lot of people showed up for us in a lot of different ways: they showed up with tears and quick hugs at the door; they showed up with huge quantities of food; they showed up with kind words and all kinds of generosity. But best of all, our kids all showed up to be together. Our family is spread all across the country, and I was amazed when I calculated that all told, the seven of our children who don’t live nearby traveled more than 20,000 miles just to be home with us. We didn’t really do a lot. We sat around the table and made food and washed dishes and had loud conversations about pretty much everything. As Roseanna, said, that’s what Boswells do when they get together. But it was certainly one of the best gifts I have ever received in my life.
That stands out in my mind so vividly this Christmas, because right at the heart of what we celebrate in the Christmas season every year is just exactly that: the gift of our God who shows up for us when we are at our time of greatest need. Isaiah foretold it in these words: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” When all of humanity was lost and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, God showed up. He showed up right in the middle of all the nobody-specials. He showed up as one of us. He touched lepers, and he had conversations with women, of all people, and he stopped what he was doing to pay attention to little kids. He told stories and he made a little food stretch so everybody had enough to eat, and he healed people of all their diseases, even on the Sabbath, which annoyed the more religious types. He wept with the mourners at funerals, and then he raised their dead back to life. Because that’s what God does when he gets together with his brothers and sisters.
We can’t calculate how far God had to come to be with us in time, or in distance, like I did with my kids’ travels, partly because we know that he’s never so far away from us that he can’t hear us when we cry for help. And it is the great mystery of our infinite, eternal God who is, that he also was, long before there were people on the earth, long before there was even an earth, way back before the beginning of all beginnings, as John said: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” So, we can’t begin to measure how far God came to be with us in miles or in years. But Paul gave us a measure of the distance he traveled when he wrote this: “Jesus didn’t count his equality with God something to be hoarded or held onto. Far from it; he poured himself out, emptying himself of his divine glory and privilege. He took the form of a servant instead; he chose to be born as a human child. He became truly human, subject to all of our sufferings and weaknesses, all the way to the point of death, even death on a cross.” That’s the real measure of how far God came to show up for us in our need, to be with us.
Every year we celebrate that God showed up for us all on the first Christmas. But the best part of that gift is that he promises to keep on showing up in our times of need. It’s a promise he made to his people, over and over in his word. He reassured the people of Israel through Moses, when they were about to enter the Promised Land, “Don’t be afraid; God is going with you. He will never leave you or forsake you.” He reassured Solomon through his father, King David, when he was about to take on the building of the Temple and ascend to the throne, “Don’t be afraid or discouraged, because God is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” And Jesus himself promised us before he ascended to the Father, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The truth is that there is never a time that God isn’t there for us. When we feel alone, when we are afraid, when we are overwhelmed with sadness, when we are confused or angry, when we’ve made such a mess of things that we can’t believe anyone would ever want to be with us, the promise of Christmas is that he is there with us. Without fail. David marveled about that, in his poetical way, in Psalm 139, “If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, you are there. If I ride the morning winds to the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, your strength will support me. If I try to hide in the darkness, the night becomes light around me. For even darkness cannot hide from God; to you the night shines as bright as day.”
In this most holy festival of our Lord’s birth, we celebrate the moment that God himself gave us the greatest sign of his abiding love and faithfulness to us. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means “God with us”).” God is with us in the birth of Jesus, who became fully human so that we could become children of God. God is with us in his Spirit, who makes his dwelling with us as our teacher and comforter and guide. And we should always remember that God is present with us in each other, as we show up for each other in so many different ways, in all our sorrows and all our joys. That’s what it means for us to be the Church, not only here, today, in a Sunday-morning kind of way, as we celebrate together the gift of the Child born in Bethlehem, but also, and very importantly, being a part of each other’s lives, shining brightly day by day for one another in all our darknesses – as you all have been for Carroll and me so many times in the eleven years since we became a part of this wonderful church family.