Note: this is a sermon for those who have the privilege on
the second Sunday of Christmas.
IHP TZ is an organization started by Dr Dennis and Paula Lofstrom, working to build health care facilities in TZ (Tanzania) where I spent some of my childhood. Their first project was in Iambi.
They and many others joining them (you could, too!) are building a miracle: the first pediatric hospital in TZ, just north of Dar, in Zinga. See http://www.ihptz.org/ for more information.
God Calls Us Home, Today, Again
This Christmas, on each and every one of the 12 days of Christmas, we celebrate God coming to us. God comes to us in the form of an infant child, fully God, fully human. This birth is such a common thing: that another human is born. This birth is such an extraordinary thing: that it is God born as one of us – this birth is so different for God. It changes everything.
But it is not that God changes at all. It is not that God’s mercy is only now known. It is not that God does anything new – except that with Jesus’ birth God gives us a clearer view of God’s own self.
Christmas is not when God somehow changes to be with us.
God was always with us.
The greatest change is in us. God changes us so that we trust God’s presence. We are the ones, traipsing along on a wayward trip, who Jesus’ birth changes.
We see God’s self better, as a human who lived among us, ready to sacrifice himself, not others, to bring order our of chaos by Grace. We see most clearly God’s unconditional love, forgiveness and eagerness to give us new life. We see the Holy Spirit continuing God’s work even today among us!
We become better than we were, but more importantly we become less than we were before: less independent and more interdependent, less demanding and more generous, less greedy and more thankful, less hard-necked and more flexible, less judgmental and more forgiving.
In a word, Jesus is born, so that we can hear God’s invitation to come home.
On that dark night on the hills surrounding Bethlehem the shepherds are out with their flocks. Shepherds are the lowest kind of humanity. They are the ones sent out to keep sheep safe from the dangers of the night. These are more than unqualified, they are the ones others determined to be expendable, unqualified except to guard stupid sheep.
God makes them a special invitation. God invites them to his own home, to celebrate the birth of his only son. This home doesn’t look like much. It is a simple stable. Okay, it’s really a dirty animal barn.
Animals and a few poverty-captured people sit around after a birth of a baby boy. And this is a Jew that is born, a member of the backward religious people that cannot run their own affairs well enough to keep from getting overrun by foreign power after foreign power. The Romans are just the lastest of a long line of more powerful countries that have conquered these poor people.
What can the shepherds do? The sky shines bright with a star like no other. The air resounds with choruses of angels. One angel says not to be afraid, but these poor shepherds are beyond being afraid. Their world just got all turned around. Everything is changed. And God invites them to his home.
What can they do but go and pay him a visit?
At least they do not need to change to fit in. The stable is for animals and people like them. So the shepherds go to visit God at home.
If God invites the shepherds, then the God certainly will invite us. And neither do we need to change to fit in. There is no special suit, no special words to say. God invites us into the earthy parts of this world. For that is God’s home. That is where God’s heart is.
Home. Home is the place where your heart is. Home is where your family is. Home is where you belong, no matter what you do, no matter what happens, no matter what you do good or wrong.
Home is this and much more.
Home is where God created us to live, it is paradise, it is the New Jerusalem, it is the answer to every yearning.
This Christmas we come home. Not just to those who gave us birth and raised us. Not just to those who grew up with us. Not just to those we gave birth to. Not just to those who love us. This Christmas we come home to the One who loves us unconditionally.
From Iambi Tanzania this a snippet from the 2003 news:
The air is very soft this morning, just a whisper of breeze, temp. about 70. It rained last night, again. Yes, the rains have returned. Thank you for your prayers, and thank You, God!
One day after I sent the last e-mail winds had shifted in Dar es Salaam. The following day it rained in Singida. The day after that it sprinkled here rather like a promise, “Don’t despair.” The following night it rained, a good pour with lightning and thunder, and the night after that and last night. The lake is filling like a bathtub.
The frogs are in full chorus as the Duromo’s streams began to fill and flow once more. New life, new hope. The spring rains, though 2 months late, have come.
Our neighbors are all busy now that the rains have come. They’ve cleared the fields by hand during the dry season, and cattle and goats grazed the soil almost bare. Subsistence farming is a cooperative family enterprise. Grand parents watch the youngest children while Dad gets behind the plow. Younger children guide the two small oxen with sticks and Mom drops the precious maize seeds into the newly cut furrow and covers them over. Up one row and down the next.
But, for the next three months, until the harvest begins, there will be severe hunger on the Iamba Plateau. Some people think that growing a cash crop, like the English imposed growing potatoes on the Irish, or raising sheep for wool in New Zealand, or growing strawberries in Guatemala for the Americans is a good alternative to subsistance farming, but what if the cash crop fails or the market changes? How do those farmers then feed themselves? Are there social impact studies as well as environmental ones when it comes to agricultural management?
I went down to the hospital a few days ago to snap pictures of our nurse-midwife taking advantage of the midwife kits supplied to us by Global Health Ministries. The moms and midwives were delighted with the hats, towels, soap, washcloths, and receiving blankets in each kit. One mom had had a C-section which costs $60.00 at Iambi. At all of the other hospitals it’s $100 to $105.00 But when the average family’s cash income averages only $20.00 a month, as it is in this area, the hospital bill of $60.l00 is staggering. After a month, if the family cannot pay the bill, it is forgiven, and the mom and baby go home. But the hospital cannot absorb these costs and still pay the nursing staff, buy the medicines and anesthesia, and even the cleaning supplies and still function without outside assistance.
Suffering and hopelessness are the best means to learn the best and strongest lessons for each of us. As acceptance unfolds, dimly at first, and then more clearly, we see that God’s divine timing has been working all the time and that we have lost nothing that is not coming back to us, perhaps in new containers, but in God’s abundance.
Paula concluded her email with: Thank you for your prayers. Thank You God for the rain and the promise of new life. Thank you for birds and bull frogs and lizards large and small.
Home is where God calls us to live. Home is where God gives us opportunity to give our very lives that others may live. Home is where we stop violence and injustice, where forgiveness and mercy prevail.
Home is where God invites us to live, no matter who we are. No matter what we are. Whether we’ve been good or bad. Because we have always been both.
Home is where we hope, and it becomes true.
This Christmas God invites you to come home, to see Jesus in your lives at all turns and to reflect him in your thoughts, words and actions of love and forgiveness.
This is the home that God invites us to, here where his only son is born.
Where is your home?
Your real home?
Where you are unconditionally loved?
Where can you safely unconditionally love others?
Where are you together with people of all colours, faiths, and cultures, shoulder to shoulder as equals facing each challenge and joy, … together with your beloved, you siblings, your children, your parents, your relatives, and your guests?