One Flesh – The Rev. Michelle Meech
December 24, 2020
A sermon preached to the online community of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kingston, NY on Christmas Eve 2020. You can read the scripture here. Click on the play button above to listen along.
Tonight’s worship is probably like no other you’ve ever attended. I know it’s like no other that I’ve ever presided over. Filming and editing video is not something they ever taught us to do in seminary but it’s something I’ve developed some menial skill for over the past month. That and the nerve-wracking process of managing video and zoom at the same time. It’s not what Christmas looked like last year and it’s not, what I hope, Christmas will look like next year. But it’s what we have for now. And I’ve learned a lot.
I think that’s the overall theme for this entire year, really. I’ve seen so many posts on social media that say something like: I can’t wait to see the end of 2020. It hasn’t been a very enjoyable year. For far too many, it’s been deadly and grim and heartbreaking. Planning, only to have our plans canceled. Anxiety over everyday activities. Social unrest. Turning on a dime to handle things differently because the rules have changed. Divisive politics. The inability to see our loved ones. People dying.
And in all of it, there has been an undercurrent of: This is what it is. We hope it won’t be the same next year. But, in the meantime, we’re learning a lot while we cope with the difference between our reality and our preference.
In the midst of this, I’ve seen our community of Kingston come together in incredible ways – the Kingston Mutual Aid Facebook page, the community refrigerators popping up all over Midtown, the community gatherings around Black Lives Matter, and various organizations feeding people and making sure people’s needs are tended to. Including our own Angel Food East who shifted operations completely to make sure that every one of our volunteers stayed safe so that every one of our clients could continue to eat.
Because look what love does.
I’m not saying it’s good. I’m not saying “Yay, 2020!” I’m saying, what God is doing with it, is good. This is what God always does, create blessing from the hardest of circumstances.
God is Love and Love works through us to create goodness in the midst of despair. Love becomes incarnate in the Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of life because Love is life. Life cannot thrive without Love – this connection we have with one another because we are born of the same earth, this interdependence we have because share the same breath. We are the same flesh. And God creates, love creates, so that life may thrive.
I offer this poem from Hafiz, a twelfth century Persian:
I have come into this world to see this: the sword drop from humanity’s hands even of the height of their arc of anger because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound and it is His – Christ’s, our Beloved’s.
I have come into this world to see this: all creatures hold hands as we pass through this miraculous existence we share on the way to even a greater being of soul, a being of just ecstatic light, forever entwined and at play with God.
I have come into this world to hear this: every song the earth has sung since it was conceived in the Divine’s womb and began spinning from God’s wish, every song by wing and fin and hoof, every song by hill and field and tree and man and woman and child, every song of stream and rock, every song of tool and lyre and flute, every song of gold and emerald and fire, every song the heart should cry with magnificent dignity to know itself as God; for all other knowledge will leave us again in want and aching – only imbibing in the glorious Sun will complete us.
I have come into the world to experience this: people so true to love they would rather die before speaking an unkind word, people so true their lives are God’s covenant – the promise of Hope.
I have come into this world to see this: the sword drop from humanity’s hands even at the height of their arc of rage because we have finally realized there is just one flesh we can wound.
My beloveds, we have no greater evidence of this truth, that we are all one flesh, than this past year. This year of 2020 that we would prefer to forget. But should we? Should we forget how important love has been for us this year? When we’ve learned so much about just how deadly selfishness actually is? When we’ve come to realize that to care for others is truly to care for self at the same time?
Because there is only one flesh. And all other knowledge will leave us again in want and aching.
Now, more than ever, the message of Christmas is life-changing – that God creates blessing out of the worst of circumstances. God brings light in the midst of the deepest night. God creates a gift of love incarnate for the whole world – a man who would eventually sacrifice his life for others – this gift of love incarnate created in the womb of a poor woman who needed a place to stay on a dark night.
Last year, at Christmas time, someone asked me why we don’t put the baby in the manger at the altar when we celebrate Christmas. And, I had never thought to explain this – of course! What a great question! We have this story of a baby being born and laid in a manger so, where’s the baby? Wouldn’t that be the very point of the story?
Here’s why: Because my hope is that you’ll use this image of the manger for yourselves. Because the love that is born in you, may not look exactly like a baby, even though it may be just as vulnerable and just as tender and need just as much nurturing. This manger is yours because God is being born in your own heart, your own manger.
And love doesn’t always look like a baby. Sometimes it looks like justice or dignity or diversity or advocacy. But we celebrate these, all these, as a birth because we know how fragile love can be. Yet, it’s the very thing that brings worldly power to its knees because it’s about life itself. And none of us, not one of us, can escape the truth of that. There is only one flesh. And it is made of this earth. And it breathes the same breath.
So it’s not exactly about a child being born, but about a love being born. A love that is so powerful that it turns the whole world toward the light. A love so powerful that worldly power – wealth, political power, fancy things – all the worldly power is brought to its very knees by the power of this love. A love so powerful that our life is changed forever.
What is in that manger for you? What does this love look like in your heart that is changing your life forever? What is that song Hafiz talks about when he says that he wants to “hear every song the heart should cry with magnificent dignity to know itself as God’s; for all other knowledge will leave us again in want and aching.”
For even in the darkest of times, in the darkest part of the year, Love is still born in our hearts when long to hear every song of the earth, when we become so true to love that we yearn to be kind, when we drop our sword even at the height of the art of anger.
Even in the darkest of times, in the darkest season of the year, Love is still born in our hearts when we acknowledge the truth of our one flesh.
And that is quite a miracle.