When It All Comes Together
Itís been cold these past several days, but how many of you have ever experienced a blizzard, or weather with a wind chill factor of -50 degrees? Michael Dowling was 14 years old when he got caught in a Minnesota blizzard in the winter of 1880. He stumbled through the snow for hours, finally seeking refuge for the night in a haystack. In the morning his legs and hands were frozen. Sixteen days later both legs and one arm were amputated. But he refused to pity himself. "I wonít be laid on the shelf for the rest of my life," he vowed. Refusing to feel sorry for himself, he repeated, "I wonít. I wonít." And he wasnít.
Michael Dowling became Superintendent of Schools, Education Commissioner for the United States, President of the Minnesota Bankers Association, Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives, and a world-wide spokesman for the care of the disabled.
On one of his world travels, he found himself in Sulu trying to talk to an extremely bored Sultan about the needs of the handicapped. Dowling tried his best to penetrate the Sultanísí indifference, but to no avail. Finally, Dowling quietly sat down and removed his right leg. Then, his left leg. Then he reached over with his one good arm and removed his other arm, and tossed all three limbs on the floor in front of the Sultan. When Dowling reached for his head, the Sultan sprang from his chair, and excitedly begged him to share the secret of his magic!
We are talking about unity this Advent season; not necessarily bodily unity, but unity among people; unity in families, neighborhoods, church, and among nations. The final stanza of our theme hymn this Advent, "O Church of God, United," begins, "May thy great prayer be answered that we may all be one!" That is our heartís cry this Advent. We celebrate Christmas with the imminency of war on the horizon. January 15 looms before us. O dear God, may we all be one; may we be united.
The hymn continues in the fourth stanza by telling us how unity is achieved, May thy great prayer be answered that we may all be one! close bound, by love united in thee, Godís blessed Son:Unity is found in God, through Godís blessed Son, whose birth we celebrate this Christmas.
We cooperate with other churches in sponsoring the Urban Ministry of Palo Alto. Jim Burklo, the Executive Director and Minister, wrote an eloquent article in their newsletter which arrived a few days ago. Listen to an excerpt,
It is my prayer, my intention, that the warmth, the peace, and the unconditional love that surrounded the birth of the Christ will surround each one of the people of the streets of Palo Alto this season. But as it was then for Mary and Joseph, so it is now a hard season to expect warmth, peace and love...Unrealized dreams, shattered expectations, enormous losses become enlarged and amplified by the very magic of Christmas that we celebrate...Christmas is not an easy time for us at Urban Ministry. The lonely are lonelier, the mentally ill are in deeper torment, the alcoholics are drunker, and the poor feel their poverty more than ever.
Jim also feels the sadness in the voices of the well-fed and adequately-housed lonely people. He wrote, "The homelessness of the heart reveals itself painfully at Christmas, and we at Urban Ministry know that responding to spiritual homelessness is also our mission."
The homeless are not only those who do not live in a building; there are also the spiritually homeless, those who may live in a building, but donít belong anywhere. "The homelessness of the heart reveals itself painfully at Christmas."
There was a story in the Los Angeles Times, November 16, 1988, called, "A Motherís Search for Russell Love." The mother who lives in Houston had not seen her son, Russell Love, for four years and not heard from him in two years. She knew he was homeless somewhere in Los Angeles County, and longing to get in touch with her son, she ran a personals ad for 12 days. It read, Russell L. Love--from Houston or anyone knowing where he lives please call his mother collect (and the number was listed). Russell, your mother will never forget you. She loves you."
A street person, his sandwiches wrapped in newspaper, shared with a friend. The friend in turn turned to another friend and said, "Do you want a sandwich?" Unwrapping the sandwich, there was the ad. Knowing Russell, this friend called the newspaper. A reporter came out and they found a young, blond-headed man asleep, rolled up in a bright yellow blanket. Waking him up, the reporter asked, "Are you Russell Love? Your mother wants you to call." Russell telephoned. She excitedly told him she would send him money when she got paid at the end of the month. The money arrived and Russell went home for Christmas where he was reunited with his mother and his family.
Thatís the message and the power of Christmas. God comes into our world. Perhaps God doesnít put ads in the Times Tribune, but God sends us messages through Christmas carols, cards, candles, poinsettias, choirs, decorated trees, cookies, egg nog, figgy pudding, lutefisk, or whatever are your customs, calling, "Come home!" "Russell, John, Matilda, Betty, Douglas, come home. Call collect. Your ticket is paid for. Jesus paid it all. Thereís nothing due. Come home."
The January issue of Weavings tells the story of Catherine, an affluent 67-year-old widow. She went for counseling because her daughter said she was depressed. Catherine complained that something was not quite right with her life. She was very busy with travel, clubs, volunteer activities, and grandchildren. She went to church every Sunday, taught Sunday School for 26 years, and chaired most of the church committees at one time or another. "But," she said, "church just doesnít seem to speak to the way I feel. Itís just another activity."
The counselor said, "Thatís your church life. What is going on between you and God?" There was a long pause. "Nothing," she replied, "and to be perfectly honest, there are times in the middle of some nights when I wonder whether there really is a God...Yet there are other times when I crave God, but canít make the connection." She paused, and then her eyes widened, as though she had just discovered something. "I know what it is I want. I want to experience God. It seems as though Iíve been behaving well and working for someone Iíve read and heard about, but have never met. Well, itís high time we met!"
Catherine was suffering from spiritual homelessness, homelessness of the heart. She was seeking unity in activities, but not with God.
We know from the story that Mary and Joseph were homeless when they reached Bethlehem. They had no place to stay, no place to have a baby. They were lonely, cold, and frightened, until an innkeeper befriended them. I wonder if Mary was spiritually homeless back in Nazareth when the angel visited her. I wonder why the Lord selected Mary. When you visit Nazareth, you will see Maryís house. Actually it is covered by a large church; but, through an opening in the floor, you can look down on what they say was Maryís place. It is very small, unpretentious, nothing fancy or rich. Mary was just an ordinary young woman. Was her heart homeless? Was she looking for something extraordinary? She was engaged to a fine man named Joseph, but was there still something missing? Did she still not feel she belonged? Wasnít sure of her place in life? Did she need a word from the Lord? Did she need to be needed?
Whatever her spiritual state, the Lord chose her to be the mother of Jesus. She found favor with God. When Gabriel the angel approached her with the good word, she was astounded. She was confused, perplexed, and frightened; but Gabriel told her not to be afraid. She was to be given the greatest honor bestowed upon a human being. She was chosen to be Jesusí mother. And, Jesus was not just an ordinary baby. Gabriel said, (Luke 1:32-33) He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.
It all came together for Mary in Jesus. It all comes together for us in Jesus. Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, is our unity. Jesus is our home. We belong to Jesus. We belong in his family. We belong in his church. We belong in his kingdom, his spiritual realm.
Gabriel promised Mary the power of the Holy Spirit. She could give birth to the Messiah because "nothing will be impossible with God."
Notice Maryís response. It all came together for Mary when she responded, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Do with me as you like. I donít know what this all means, but I trust that good thins will happen. I hold nothing back. Nothing is impossible with God. Yes, I will call collect. Yes, I will come home.
God calls to each one of us this Christmas. I firmly believe God is sending you messages, through an angel, in the newspaper, through your Christmas customs, in this service. God is nudging you, whispering in your mindís ear, shoving you, hitting you between the eyes. God is calling you to come home, not just to be busy doing things, but to be Godís child, to belong to Christ, to be one of his, to be loved, to be held and hugged, to overcome the loneliness, the illness, the homelessness of the heart. Your heart has a home. It is in Christ. Your unity is in Christ. You have a need for a word from the Lord. You have a need to be needed. When you respond to God with a firm, "YES! Let it me be with me according to your word. Do with me as you please," then it will all come together.
Make this the best Christmas ever! Get it all together--your act, your life--by being united with Christ. Receive Godís gift this Christmas, the gift of his Son.
ã 1990 Douglas I. Norris