I'd like to share a light-hearted story with you. A true story of five friends who exchanged small gifts with each other every year at Christmas, rotating in such a way that each person received one gift from within the group from a different person each year. Because their schedules rarely allowed it, they didn't open the gifts altogether in one room at the same time and see what each person gave to the others. And so it was that the fruit cake given by Martha one year to her friend Beverly slowly made the rounds through the group in the next four years until, you guessed it because fruit cake hermetically sealed has a rather prodigiously long shelf life, Martha received back her fruit cake from another friend in year five. Only in that particular year it so happened that they were all together in one room when the gifts were opened. And after everyone had opened their presents, Martha just looked and looked at that fruitcake until finally she exclaimed, "could this be the fruitcake that I gave to you Beverly, five years ago?" And the truth came out, with some sheepish looks and fact-clarifying, and like the good friends that they were, they all laughed and laughed over how not one of them liked fruitcake and how looking at that expiration date that was still years away, they had just kept passing it on! And they decided that the fruitcake's next stop would be the compost.
Today, of course, we gather to hear another story; the story of Jesus, Light of the World, Jesus the Bright Morning Star, Jesus the Word made flesh who was before time and is acting within time and will be the fulfillment of all things when time finally ends. This is the One for whom we have waited and longed as people of the earth, the Savior for whom we have cried out to God. And, as we heard in our second reading, God listened to our pleas, and "saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to God's mercy" (Titus 3:5). As foretold by the prophet Isaiah, we shall be called "a people sought out, a city not forsaken." (Isaiah 62:12) And this, too, is not because of who we are, but because of the nature of God's love and mercy that have been poured out, poured into Jesus Christ, Jesus who is the Light of the world, the Word made flesh. Jesus, whose birth we celebrate today. Jesus, whose story we gather to tell.
And this, this is a story that we can wrap up in a hundred thousand ways and re-gift and pass around every year. And it will never get tired, it will never get old, and it will never reach an expiration date. This is pure good news. Pure good news that arrives to a world that knows all too much news that isn't good, isn't wonderful.
Someone was telling me the other day that one of their relatives, not someone from Redeemer, New Paltz, had been exclaiming grumpily to them about how their regular evening television programming had been interrupted the other night so that a special message from the president of Ukraine might be broadcast. They said they couldn't understand why this message needed to interrupt their programming. The person telling me this story said that they tried to remind their relative that the war in Ukraine drags on, and how the people there need money and food and heating fuel and our good thoughts and prayers. How the president of Ukraine had been televised to try to help build the support needed. But this message seemed to fall on deaf ears.
Sometimes I wonder if maybe none of us really want to be interrupted in our lives. Interrupted from our favorite programs, whatever form of media we watch them on; interrupted from the lives, we try to construct for ourselves in various ways to help us feel safe and secure; to help us feel like we can know what to expect and how to expect it. Maybe in some ways, we all try to wrap up life like a hermetically sealed fruit cake. But ultimately, that kind of life isn't anything anyone is going to want to inhabit or pass on.
Real life, real breathing, vibrant life can't be sealed up and predicted. Real life is messy like this real world where war rages in one place while others of us enjoy relative safety and prosperity in another place. Real life is mostly a series of interruptions to what we thought would be happening with what really is happening. And this, this is the world into which the One who is the Word chose to take on flesh and take on our lot. So that amidst the messes might emerge the masterpieces. Have you ever seen photos of the studios of a painter like Monet? Paint and mess everywhere, but in the midst of it all, beautiful finished masterpieces stand ready to shine beauty and vibrancy to the world.
This is the work of the Word come down to our messy lives and this messy world. The Word comes down to interrupt and shake us up in all the best of ways. To meet us in our joy and our grief and make of it MORE. More alive, more beautiful, more blessed.
Yes, we gather to hear a story today, but not really the one about the single fruitcake that was shared for 5 years on a rotating basis among friends, as much as that story makes me smile. The story we gather to share today is a story that wonderfully interrupts our lives and invites us to MORE life. To MORE. Amen.