Showing Up

nativity-birth-of-jesus by Giotto

A sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas Day, December 27, 2015.  The Gospel reading for the day is  John 1:1-18.

Listen to the sermon HERE.

An article on BBC News this week offered “Five Ways to Celebrate a Digital Christmas,” in other words, “how to use media and especially the Internet to enjoy the season, and perhaps even to think of some aspect of Christmas in a new way. One of the hints was a video project from a few years ago that is still one of my favorites. It’s called the Digital Nativity, made by a marketing group called EccentricPT.

It basically tells the story of the birth of Jesus as though one is looking at a computer screen. After a click on GoogleEarth shows us a satellite image of Nazareth, we are shown the Virgin Mary’s Iphone as she gets an instant message from the Angel Gabriel, “Mary, you’re going to give birth to the Son of God.” The story continues as screens are clicked and all of early 21st century technology tells a very old story.

As the telling progresses and Jesus is born, Joseph posts a picture of the baby on Facebook. The number of “likes” rises astronomically. And then Joseph creates a Facebook event called, “Meet the Baby.” The location is (of course) the Stable in Bethlehem. We see the names of those attending the event appear: Joseph, Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar.

If you know the “event” feature of Facebook, you know that when one is invited to an event, one can answer in three ways, “going, maybe, or can’t go.” If you’ve used this feature to host an event, or if you’ve read about it in the news, you’ll know that this “going” or “attending” feature presents some special 21st century problems in etiquette.

Whether in Facbook, Evite, or some other system, often, the list of those who are attending, the guest list, is public information. The problem is that very few people want to say publicly that they’re not attending. Some email invitations give you space to explain, and that’s a good thing, but still, the statistics show again and again that there are events—especially charity events, social events, fundraisers, openings, to which several hundred people will respond “I’m going,” and yet, only eight or ten people actually show up.

Showing up is the hard part to lots of things, isn’t it? Showing up for work, showing up for some commitment, showing up for appointments. It’s hard when you depend on public transportation, or when your car breaks down, or when you forget to look at the calendar (or, if you’re like me, and you don’t notice that the settings have changed that synchronize your phone calendar with the calendar on your office computer, and you’ve either just hidden a week’s worth of appointments or you’re suddenly operating on Pacific Time.)

The term, “showing up,” has come to mean a lot more in popular meaning. For a child to grow up in a loving family, the parents need to “show up,” – for soccer games, and school meetings, and for all those arranged times for pick up or dropping off. In relationships of all kinds, the key to being in relationship has to do with “showing up”—not just physically, but also emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. And we all fail at this. We fail from time to time because we’re human. We fail because we get tired, or cranky, or distracted. We become self-consumed, living life by continually checking the “maybe” column, while refusing to commit to anything that might nudge us out of places that are familiar, comfortable, and private.

But on this First Sunday after Christmas Day, one thing we can notice is the way in which there’s a lot of “showing up” in the Christmas story.

Mary shows up for God, agreeing to be there for God, to be anywhere for God, simply “to be” for God. Then there’s Joseph who is tempted to run away, or as the scripture puts it (to divorce Mary quietly). But instead, Joseph shows up. The innkeeper shows up by opening his stable. The shepherds show up, as do angels and others, and eventually the three kings. There’s a lot of showing up, but all because of one major, overwhelming, earth-changing appearance.

God shows up. And there’s no “maybe” to it.

In the Incarnation, God comes into the world in a whole new way, physically and bodily, like one of us. He comes into fleshly existence, he is born as Jesus in order to feel like us, to hurt like us, to love like us, to eat and drink and sleep on the earth, even to die like us. But he rises again, and death will never be the same for those who believe.

As we anticipate the unfolding of Christmas and the visits of the Three Kings to meet the baby at the stable, we can think about our own opportunities to “show up.” As we move into a new year, it’s a good time to think about the ways and times that God has shown up in especially strong ways in our lives. It’s a good time to be grateful for all those who have shown up for us when we’ve needed someone most.

And finally, it’s an especially good time for us to think about the ways we’ve shown up for others, the ways that perhaps we’ve not always shown up, and to commit to being present in the new year—present for God and for one another.

The Word has become flesh and dwells among us: full, present, and alive.

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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