A Human-Shaped Revelation
I’ve met some pretty cool famous people in my life. When I was a kid, thanks to my dad and brother, many of them were baseball players. I have autographs from standing along first-baselines in Detroit and Cincinnati growing up; and from baseball card shows and trips to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, too. I have signed baseballs, baseball cards and scraps of paper from players like Cal Ripken, Jr., Pete Rose and Bob Feller, (who my dad assured me was a pretty big deal).
As I got older, I was more enamored with musicians and entertainers than with baseball players. I’ve been to more than my share of KISS concerts and I’ve stalked them for hi-fives and “goat floats” at KISS conventions before there were cell phones to prove it. But here’s me, with Ace Frehley sometime way back in the 1900’s as my sons like to say.
More recently, I’ve waited in the freezing rain outside the Rathskellar, and after hours at a bar in Fountain Square, and in line at a record store in Broad Ripple for the chance to meet the Indigo Girls – and especially Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls – which I realize means about as much to most of you as Bob Feller meant to me back in the day, but I won’t hold it against you … much.
And, of course, some of you remember that one time when I met… and prayed with… and climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia, with Oprah. I’ll spare you that walk down Memory Lane, but just so we’re clear here’s me with the queen of all things.
Anyway, I was wondering what it is that’s so compelling about meeting someone famous. What is it about being up close and face-to-face with someone we admire?
I wonder if it has something to do with simply getting close to our idea of a good thing. I wonder if it has something to do with feeling like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. I wonder if there’s something about the experience of brushing up against fame and stardom; something about bumping up against a great talent; something about standing alongside someone we admire, respect, and aspire to be more like, maybe, that validates us in some way. Maybe there’s just something to the rarity of it – the sheer odds – of being able to say, remember that one time when “I met so-and-so.”
Whatever it is, there’s something powerful about seeing and being seen by someone we admire, respect, or look up to for any number of reasons.
And I’m under the impression that God has always wanted that for us – not where baseball players or rock stars or even Oprah are concerned – but that God has always wanted for God’s people to bump into; to brush up against; to see and to be seen by the Divine in ways that would move us and inspire us and encourage us and comfort us in some way. And I think that’s what so many of us look for and need in many ways, too.
It’s why God has always showed up, throughout history, for God’s people. In the garden of Eden, God moved around and spoke to Adam and Eve, “at the time of the evening breeze,” as the story goes. (Something about that moment is so compelling to me. I picture the low branches of the trees blowing in the wind and the tops of the tall grass being rustled in the breeze – like God is playing hide and seek with those first humans – just daring them to find him.)
And there were other times, too, of course. There were pillars of cloud and fire. There were burning bushes and traveling tents and that Ark of the Covenant. There was manna in the wilderness and water from rocks. All along the way, the Almighty seemed to be doing God’s level best to show up for people in ways that would show them something.
Until God decided, with the birth of Jesus, to lift the veil higher; to step out of the dugout; to step down from the stage and stick around after the show; to stand in line on this side of the cosmic velvet rope; to bump into and up against the people who needed it most; to see and to be seen … finally. With the birth of Jesus, God was made known in a way that was unmistakable, undeniable – unfathomable, too – but True (with a capital T); as transcendent and as tangible as this baby in a manger, we’ve gathered around tonight.
And, what a buzz-kill, frankly. What a let-down, really. What a surprisingly plain (cute and cuddly, I’m sure!) but otherwise ordinary, stinky, smelly, messy, vulnerable, human-shaped revelation. All of which was and is precisely God’s point.
What a plain, ordinary, stinky, messy, vulnerable, human-shaped revelation! The marvel and miracle in all of this is so we would notice God – not in the high and mighty – but in the lowly and less than; so we would look for God – not in the proud and powerful – but in the humble and weak; so we would wait for God – not in the rich and righteous – but in the broke and the broken; so that we would dare to see the heart of God in a manger and in the mirror, even, too.
A couple of months ago, when I met Amy Ray (one of the Indigo Girls I realize many of you don’t know or care much about), one of the most impressive things about her was that she showed up to a record store in Broad Ripple on a Friday afternoon. The store was filled with fans like me, who had bought her brand new record because we heard she would be signing them after she played some music from the album first.
And as we crowded around a make-shift stage, expecting her to appear from some holy-of-holies backstage, she showed up, walking through the front door – just like the rest of us had – carrying her own guitar, like she’d just Ubered over from the hotel. And she made her way through the crowd – “excuse me,” “pardon me,” “I can’t believe people actually showed up” – as she bumped her way past some of her biggest fans like it was no big deal, plugged in, and put on a show.
At Christmas, we’re reminded that God always comes down – and that God already has come down, in Jesus. God is born, not in secret and not in disguise. God is born for our sake and means to walk in the front door of our hearts and lives looking to redeem what is broken here; looking to forgive what is sinful here; looking to encourage what is righteous here; looking to celebrate what is good and loving and merciful and hopeful in our lives.
And God did that – God does that, in the flesh and bones of Jesus – so that we, in our own flesh and bones, will live differently because of it. So we will recognize the Divine in ourselves and so we will work to see it in others, too. And not just those we admire or respect or aspire to be more like. But so we will recognize the Divine especially in those the world refuses and rejects; so we will recognize the Divine in those from whom the Church separates itself and shuns; so we will recognize the Divine in those we are inclined to turn from and to turn away, ourselves.
God is born in Jesus… in the flesh… so that we might see there all of our own broken, needy, hurting and hope-filled humanity. And God is born in Jesus… in the flesh… so we will trust that we have been seen, just the same; seen, each of us, by the One who loves us – and who so loves the world – without condition, without reservation, without limits, because of what is beautiful here and in spite of all that isn’t, just yet.
Amen. Merry Christmas.