The Coming of the GiftPosted: December 1, 2013
The Coming of the Gift
Today is the first day of Advent — preparation for the coming of the gift – the divine word revealed in flesh. Our scripture this morning emphasizes the fleshiness of the divine child – a helpless baby who suckles at his mother’s breast and needs to be changed and kept warm – child in a manger.
GENEALOGY OF JESUS
Many people when they decide to read the New Testament, open their Bible and dive right into the first chapter of Matthew and they just can’t get through the genealogy of Jesus. “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers and on and on and on.” So most people skip over the first 17 verses of the New Testament and fail to realize the deep wisdom contained in the family tree of the Messiah.
BAD BOYS AND GIRLS OF THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES
Jesus was not some star child who appeared from out of nowhere. The Messiah was part of the fabric of nature a product of evolution. He had a family tree just like us. And while there were Kings and Queens in his lineage, there were also stone masons, horse thieves, prostitutes, and carpenters, among his forbearers just like us. Tamar and Judah, Rahab and Salmon, David and Bathsheba all had irregular sexual liaisons. Parts of Jesus’ pedigree read like a chronicle of bad boys and girls of the Hebrew Scriptures. And yet even these characters of dubious reputation were ancestors of the Messiah.
AUTHENTIC NOT PERFECT
The point of the story is that God acted through imperfect people, liars, cheats, adulterers and murderers to bring Jesus the Messiah into the world – the word made flesh. And if God can act through the ancestors of Jesus, God can certainly act through us. Our flesh does not have to be perfect in order to incarnate the love of God. Our goal is to be authentic not perfect.
Let’s take a few minutes to talk about flesh. Our bodies are often embarrassing and a source of perceived weakness. An endless number of third grade potty jokes testify to our discomfort about our bodies and our bathroom habits. I see Paris, I see France, I see Suzie’s underpants.
Or then there’s the story about drunk who staggered into a Catholic church and sat down in a confessional, saying nothing. The bewildered priest coughed to attract his attention, but still the man said nothing. The priest then knocked on the wall of the confessional three times in a final attempt to get the man to speak.
Finally, the drunk replied, “No use knocking, mate, there’s no paper in this one either.”
ADOLESCENT SEXUAL HUMOR
Eighth grade humor is a testament to our anxiety about our bodies and sexuality. Q. How do you know when you’re getting old?
A. You start having dry dreams and wet farts. Q. What do you call a virgin in a waterbed? A. A cherry float.
We make jokes to allay our embarrassment and shame about our bodies. Our appetites betray us. We struggle to control our body weight, while our addictions can make our lives unmanageable. For some of us, it is hard to become comfortable inside our own skin.
FLESH GIVES BIRTH TO FLESH
And yet the gift of life comes to us in the flesh. The world around us is mediated to us by our physical senses of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. We derive pleasure from the experience of the sight of beauty, the sound of music, the sensation of touch, the smell of pleasurable aromas, the taste of good food and drink. If we exercise with some regularity the experience of movement is pleasurable. We use our bodies to earn a living and seek care for our bodily needs of food, shelter, sleep, and sex. We even give life to a new generation through our bodies. Literally our flesh gives birth to flesh the miracle of life flows through our bodies – miraculous.
GIFT OF LIFE WRAPPED IN FLESH
The gift of life comes wrapped in flesh. We are incarnated life. There may be some other kind of life that does not have a body, but at least in this world, our lives are our bodies. We are our bodies. And part of the good news of the gospel is that the Messiah, God revealed in flesh had a body like us. The church from time to time has flirted with asceticism, an attempt to deny the flesh. Clergy celibacy is an unwelcome legacy of that kind of flesh denying theology. Pope Francis has placed clergy celibacy on the table for discussion, because of a shortage of priests, however, I think there is also the possibility of creating a new flesh affirming theology — incarnational theology – call it love with skin on.
OUR BODIES FORM A CONSPIRACY AGAINST US
Of course as we grow older sometimes we can feel as if our bodies have formed a conspiracy to betray us. Arthritis begins to set in. Our bowels become grumpy. Our eye sight and hearing fade. The fires of passion no longer burn with such ferocity – of course that can be a good thing. Perhaps most distressing is when our brains begin to fail. We become more forgetful. We walk into a room and wonder why we are there. We write down a shopping list and then forget where we put it. Our keys seem to find new places to hide. Dementia is no fun. That reminds me of my favorite story about memory loss.
Two older couples used to get together to visit. One day one of the men, Harry, started talking about this fantastic restaurant he went to with his wife. “Really?” the other man said, what’s it called?
After thinking for a few seconds the Harry said, “what’s the name of those good smelling flowers that are often red?”
“Do you mean a rose?” the first man asked.
“Yes that’s it,” he exclaimed. Then looking over at his wife he said, “Rose what’s that restaurant we went to the other night?”
LIFE IS A PRECIOUS GIFT REGARDLESS
But even suffering the disabilities of age life is a precious gift. Not too many of us are signing up for an early exit. We simply accept the reality that the gift of life comes wrapped in skin with all the weaknesses to which flesh is prone. And the wonderful gift of Christmas is that God says the gift is good. We can appreciate and love our bodies just as they are. We can connect with other people with our bodies, holding hands, hugging, even occasionally offering an affectionate kiss. Our skin was made for stroking and patting and loving. We can use our hands and arms our embrace to comfort. Certainly we have to be appropriate. There are boundaries and different people have different comfort zones we need to respect. And we all need love. Love is as critical to our survival as food and water. People die for lack of love. That’s why when we share communion this morning we will form a circle, join hands and look each other in the eye.
THIS IS MY BODY
As Jesus said, “This is my body.” Just so we are the body of Christ in the world. We are called to incarnate the love of Christ in our own bodies and share that love with others. On this first Sunday of Advent as we prepare for the coming of the gift we celebrate our embodiment and share our joy. Amen.