Every year on the Sunday before Christmas, we pray the same opening prayer: Purify our conscience, Almighty God, that your son Jesus, when he comes, will find in us a mansion prepared for himself. This past week I have found myself reflecting a lot on this prayer and I’ve been wondering what it really means to prepare a mansion for Jesus, a mansion in our hearts.
One of my favorite people around here has been heard to say “you know, people in this neighborhood, they might get uncomfortable hearing the word ‘Jesus’ over and over again. Don’t say ‘Jesus’ so much in your sermons.” But Jesus is God walking around as one of us! What’s not to like?
If Christmas isn’t about Jesus, what’s the big deal? Why do we do this to ourselves, the shopping, the decorating, the cleaning, the airports…I thought about roaming through the crowd with a microphone to ask some of you: what’s the big deal about Christmas? Why are you here? Why are you here? What does it mean to you, to come to this drafty old pile of mid-century modern brick on this cold night?
For me, Christmas is a big deal because it’s a celebration of the word made flesh. It is so outrageous, when we really think of it, that God became human and was born in a dark, smelly stable in a little nothing town in the middle of the desert. I love it. The other thing is I love God’s outrageousness in sending Godself to become human in a family, a nuclear family of all things. Why didn’t God come to the synagogue when the wise teachers and leaders were gathered? Why wasn’t God born flesh in the middle of the Roman senate? Or at the very least, in the master bedroom of the rich landowner down the road? Jesus was born into a human family, that most fragile, easily broken unit of our society.
God chose to become human in an earthy, messy, unlikely, untidy place, as a reminder that that’s who we are.
Who we are—with all of our unique messiness—is where God wants to be. Who we are—with all of our messiness—is where God is.
Christmas is truly a Feast of the Incarnation. God’s fleshiness. Our Godliness. My favorite definition of incarnation comes from our friend saint Irenaeus: God became human, that we might become divine.
Some people squirm when they hear this because they think that in order to become divine, we have to behave ourselves a lot better than we have been. But what if that’s not true? What if incarnation—God’s fleshiness—means that we get to encounter God right where we are, tonight, this weekend, next week, last week, last month? What if God’s longing is to find a home in us, exactly as we are? This is the good news of Christmas.
And this good news is for everyone. Think about the most un-divine, ungodly person you can think of. Think about your worst enemy, or the person you envy the most, or some crazy, violent, unkempt stranger that makes you want to cross to the other side of the street. These are the people the grown-up Jesus hung around with, God walking around in the world loving the unlovable, seeing God in the ungodly. The good news of Christmas is that God is born in them, too.
This is the big deal about Christmas: that the word becomes flesh. St. John the Evangelist put it this way: The word became flesh and dwelt among us. My favorite translation of that verse is The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.
What would Jesus find in our neighborhood? Or, if you’re not from around here, what would the Word made flesh find in your neighborhood? And if the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood, would we recognize it? Look around. Look for the most unlikely place in your city for God to be, the most unlikely person to be occupied by God, and think about that place as holy. Think about that person as the home of God’s word made flesh.
Every year at Christmas we sing “Joy to the World.” One of the lines hidden among all of the let heaven and nature sing verses is “Let every heart prepare him room.” Jesus wants to find room in every one of us, to dwell in us, occupy us, transform us, take back our hearts from all the distractions of our lives. If Jesus moved into the neighborhood, would he find empty space in your heart, longing to be filled? If Jesus moved into your neighborhood looking for someone to be born in, maybe someone a little bit untidy, messy, and unlikely, would he find room?
We have much to celebrate at Christmas. Even if your house is a mess or your life is a mess or you know you won’t get the gift you think you really want, or you can’t be with the one you love, there’s good news to be had. Good tidings of great joy. God is coming. God is here.
Jesus, occupy us, dwell in us, give us eyes to see the world as you see it, give us ears to hear the cry of the poor, give us courageous hearts longing to love as you love, Jesus, be born in us.