Good evening and welcome! It is so good to see everybody again. I hope you stay for cookies after the service so you can greet one another. I also hope you get what you want tomorrow morning. But as Saint Mick Jagger once sang: “You can’t always get what you want. But, if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.” (Amen!) I want some new clothes and bird feeder!
It reminds me of a story. As it was coming up to Christmas a young boy was praying upstairs with his mother, while his dad and grandma were downstairs. The little boy prayed: “Lord I pray for a train set, a remote control car, and A NEW BICYCLE!!! “
“You don’t have to shout dear,” said his mother. “God’s not deaf.”
“I know,” said the little boy, “but Grandma is.”
We come from many places tonight to occupy this place. We come with many wants, many needs, many stories. Families are reunited here. Some are present to escape the loneliness. Memories abound. However you find yourself – I am glad you are here!
I love the Christmas story – I never tire of it. This surprising and risky birth of God stealthily being born in a manger, while Emperor Augustus, in his fortress palace, counts heads, and Quirinius and Herod pace sleeplessly in their towers of power. All are worried that someone or something might take down the empire, steal the wealth, and question their authority.
The powerful always worry. But God makes herself powerless – as a newborn. Augustus is occupied with all these concerns from afar, back in Rome, while God is up close and personal, needing breast milk. You don’t have to believe it, but it is a hell of a story – one that really compels me to lean towards it and let it occupy my heart.
I love the words of the story – in the King James, of course, just sounds better – “decree,” “lineage,” “espoused,” “great with child,” “swaddling clothes,” “manger,” “heavenly hosts,” “Christ.” Think how these words have impacted our history.
Geoff Nunberg, contributor to NPR Fresh Air and author of the book The Year of Talking Dangerously, loves words too. In his opinion there is one word that was the most impactful word of 2011… Do you know what he came up with? If you know – shout it out! OCCUPY – as in occupy Wall St.
He writes: “If the word of the year is supposed to be an item that has actually shaped the perception of important events, I can’t see going with anything but “occupy.” It was a late entry, but since mid-September it has gone viral and global. Just scan the thousands of hashtags and Facebook pages that begin with the word:”Occupy.” Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Slovakia. Occupy Saskatoon, Occupy Sesame Street, Occupy the hood. They could have just been called protests, but it wouldn’t have felt as much like a movement.
“The movement came with its own culture too,” he writes. “Just a few subway stops from the national media. It gave color to the story, as reporters turned ethnographers returned from the field with reports of the people’s microphone, the jazz-hand finger-flutters, and the drum circles. It was street theater, or a dinner party with paper plates, or an exercise in constructive group dynamics… The occupiers were romantics, holy fools, anarchists. Or they were an incoherent mob of dirty hippies -with iPads. Whatever the movement is, it isn’t a wing of electoral politics.”
Nunberg ends his article with this: “‘Occupy’ is that rare linguistic phenomenon, a word that bubbles up out of nowhere and actually helps to create the very thing it names.”
Helps create…the very thing it names.
Those words of Nunberg got me thinking about what we are celebrating tonight and tomorrow and the word “Incarnation” – you know, God becoming flesh (meat), God one-of-us, Jesus.
Into the unrest, into the dis-ease, into the longing, into all the hopes and all the fears – God comes, occupying space and time in a village square of Bethlehem – in the midst, Jesus is born. It started with an unwed couple, a few shepherds, wise folk, and some barn animals.
That’s what’s wrong with those bill board signs that you used to see that read “DON’T MAKE ME COME DOWN THERE” – God. The Occupy Bethlehem movement declares that God is already down and among, occupying our space! Not in the ivory tower. Not in the towers of power of financial institutions. But occupying stable and manger.
And if you read the Scriptures with any kind of sensitivity, you see that this Occupy Bethlehem movement-this Incarnation movement means God with the poor, God with the fringe, God with the powerless, God with the distracted, God with those who feel left out – God with you and me and whatever you and I are going through – God occupying life.
Not a political agenda. Not imposed from above – but swelling up from below. And the call is out – God is going global, God is going viral, God creating a culture, a presence in place and time of caring, a culture of sacrifice, of joy – of inclusion, of hope, of home; Lifting up every valley, making low every mountain, leveling every playing field, smoothing the rough places.
God did not occupy Bethlehem to start an institution of obligation, judgment, guilt and punishment. I don’t think the Church has been listening. God did not occupy Bethlehem to protect the status quo.
That’s why it moves me to think of the Incarnation, of Christmas, as an Occupy Bethlehem movement. A movement calling you and me, us to live it, claim it, be involved – become the incarnation of the Incarnation, you and I have to give birth to Jesus. You see, it’s not something done to you, but through you.
Bono of U2 – I think he gets Christmas. He gets incarnation and the spirit of divine occupation in his song “Yaweh” (the Hebrew word for “God”)
Take these shoes…Click clacking down some dead end street
Take these shoes…And make them fit
Take this shirt…Polyester white trash made in nowhere
Take this shirt…And make it clean, clean
Take this soul…Stranded in some skin and bones
Take this soul…And make it sing
Yahweh, Yahweh….Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh…Still I’m waiting for the dawn
Take these hands…Teach them what to carry
Take these hands…Don’t make a fist, no
Take this mouth…So quick to criticize
Take this mouth…Give it a kiss
Still waiting for the dawn, the sun is coming up
The sun is coming up on the ocean…God’s love is like a drop in the ocean
His love is like a drop in the ocean
Yahweh, Yahweh…Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, tell me now…Why the dark before the dawn?
Take this city…A city should be shining on a hill
Take this city…If it be your will
What no man can own, no man can take…Take this heart
Take this heart…Take this heart…And make it brave.
To live the life of Christmas, to occupy Bethlehem, means you and I have to be brave.
Because it’s going to be your hands, and your mouths, and your souls, shirts and shoes – it’s going to be this city, this city of Cleveland which is born this night a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
And you’re going to find him! wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
Call me a romantic, a holy fool, an anarchist, an incoherent dirty hippie – I don’t care.
I just want to be part of the occupy Bethlehem movement.
I just want my life to be occupied with something big. I want my life to be occupied with hope.
So, tonight, like the shepherds, let’s go occupy BETHLEHEM.
Go see… and then see what occupies you and me.