Sermon and Worship Service Archive

  • Morning Prayer

Gilda, Grace and God Moving into the Neighborhood

The Rev. Kit Lonergan
December 26, 2021

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May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together always be acceptable in your sight, O God our strength and our redeemer. Amen. 


It was Rita Hayworth who said, “Every man I have ever known has fallen in love with Gilda and awakened with me,” Gilda being her well known movie persona. 


I kind of feel that way about the few days following Christmas— there is something ethereal about Christmas Eve—maybe it’s because we don’t usually do church in the dark, or because the world literally stops for a few hours, or because the birth of Jesus isn’t pitted against Santa and presents under a tree. It seems that when we are in the dark of Christmas Eve, that divide between now and then ceases to exist—that the very nearness of God meets less resistance when the dark makes everything feel like a womb.  


On Christmas morning, we have the deep silence of a world stilled. No commerce. No appointments. By about 4pm that evening, though, the six weeks of Christmas-carol only radio stations have returned to regular programming, ornament-less trees are on the sidewalk, and red Hershey Kiss packages are creatively relabeled as Valentine’s Day treats.  


I think of the Holy Family on the first days following the birth of Jesus. Not on Christmas Eve when the star is shining brightly, outlined by the dark of night. Not when the angels are singing, not when the shepherds make themselves at home. I think of them over the next few mornings of their new life together. Still holding Jesus in their arms, but perhaps a little more worn, a little less adrenaline coursing through their bodies. Maybe Mary is trying to sort out the sometimes complicated nuances of feeding Jesus, maybe she just wants a quick nap—Eastern Orthodox iconographers routinely portray the Incarnation with Mary lying prone on the ground next to the baby, rather than the Western Christians who depict Mary kneeling upright in homage to the child, the Western Church seemingly having a less realistic or personal view of what a woman can actually do with her body right after giving birth. 


Picture that family, in awe and exhaustion; wonder and worry; learning how to be parents, how to care for a child, and to wonder just who this child is. And perhaps, who are they themselves to have had this child placed in their arms, in their lives, in their care.  


Those first days following Jesus’ birth is when that thin space of God greets us in the sharp light of the ordinary, when the star we’ve talked about for weeks is barely discernable to the eye. It’s when the adrenaline drops, the dishes need to be done, and in some small ways, the world and it’s claims on us tries to rush back in. But this is also the gift of the Incarnation—that the story we hear in the dark or in the quiet of Christmas morning isn’t just about the story of a birth, not just a story about a family, not just one night way back when.  


The Incarnation is about God hallowing the spaces and places we live in. It’s about God coming HERE, into our unmade bedrooms and into our junk drawers; coming into our darker, less holy thoughts, into our deeds done and left undone, into the cautious joys and hopes we nurture and nourish in the thoughts of our hearts. If Christmas was only a story about a baby way back when, then we would have stopped telling it years ago. It would be the story which dropped off the rota of familial memories, only brought out to provide embarrassment when told in front of a new significant other. 


But it’s a story which is better summed up in John’s Gospel which we heard this morning—the Message interpretation of this passage reads it as ‘And God moved into the neighborhood’. That’s a stretch from the original Greek, but as a point of theology? It’s spot on. God moves in. God comes to stay. God undoes everything we had thought about God before. God comes and lights up our capacity to love. God comes and we surrender our sense of control. God comes to us, and we are undone by the love we find ourselves capable of holding and giving away to another.  


In some ways, we go to bed with a story, and we wake up the next morning with a God who is still here. Who still loves us not because we are Gilda, but as we are in the light of day. Who isn’t the Grinch or Santa, or heaven help us, some random Elf on a Shelf, watching us and judging us and messing with us. Our God is one who, in Jesus Christ, isn’t a story, but the one who abides.  


God moved into the neighborhood and stayed. This is the Good News for today, and every day. This is the love which we truly seek and the love for which we were created and sustained. Some may feel the magic ending, of the Christmas season beginning to dwindle—and obviously they haven’t been lovingly lectured by their priest about the whole Twelve Days bit enough—but the Nativity story is but the prelude. It is in the light when we see our God working in us grace beyond our imaginations. 


May this morning be a grace to you, friends. May it be holy. May you wake up today, cup of coffee in hand, wrapping paper on the floor, needles already falling from the tree, and know that God is here with you. This is the gift of this day. This is the gift which will never end.