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December 22, 1996

LUKE 1:26-38

Not too long ago, scientists watched a huge meteor crash onto the surface of Jupiter. They excitedly estimated the size of the new crater that had been formed on the planet's surface. They thrilled to the spectacle of huge billows of dust (or ice) that rose up into what passes for atmosphere out there. They theorized on the long-range planet-wide effects of the collision on Jupiter.

It took a while. But eventually someone asked what should have been the most obvious question about this whole phenomenon of meteors crashing into planets, "What if it had been the earth?"

In the last few years, astronomers have discovered and charted the trajectories of hundreds of new comets, meteors and other big, hard things hurtling through space toward our small, blue planet. So far, so good. Now there are scientists, engineers and technicians feverishly working together to try to develop a kind of meteor defense system.

Already there are two or three different designs on the drawing board that promise either (1) to shove an offending meteor off its earth-targeted course or (2) to blow it up into small, relatively harmless-sized pieces. Although these designs look pretty impressive on paper, they all share two common weaknesses. First, developing the technology and the hardware to actually build these systems would cost about a zillion dollars! (Almost as much as Disney, AT&T, and HMOs pay their executives!) Second, by the time we can locate a potentially hazardous heavenly body crashing toward us, we would need to have launched our defense mechanism about four years before!

The prospect of the heavens and earth coming together is both exhilarating and frightening. But, convergence has happened! Our earth's crust has been struck countless times by meteors. And I, for one, am not worrying about them!

We have a God who likes to shake us up. We have a God who delights in putting opposites together and then watching the dust fly. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The heavens--God's realm, the spirit world, completely unknown and unknowable. The earth-- simultaneously wet and dry, swarming with all sorts of creepy, crawly things.

Christmas is the celebration of the great convergence of heaven and earth. The Divine became incarnate in the tiny, fragile Christ child. We call it the incarnation, when the Creator became incarnate in a human being. What a wonder! God is infinite; we are finite. God is eternal; we are temporal. God is an immaterial spirit; we are a mixture of spirit and matter. On Christmas Day, God became a human. The transcendent Spirit became flesh and lived among us. Jesus is his name. The meaning of the name Jesus is to save. The purpose of the incarnation is to save humankind, to save you and me, to unite us with the Creator with whom we can enjoy a relationship, a relationship between divine and human, between the Spirit and the physical.

If you are ever tempted to consider your life hum-drum, boring or inconsequential, look for convergence where the divine has entered your existence, your life. Sometimes the convergence is so smooth you need the eyes of faith to see. Sometimes the convergence is dramatic. Can you imagine the reaction of young Mary when the angel, Gabriel, not only appeared to her, but told her, "The Lord likes you, Mary. You have been chosen! The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and you will have a baby." Can you imagine some of Joseph's reactions when he was told of the convergence! "You're what??"

Meghan, a three-year old friend of our granddaughters in their Campbell Church is quite enthralled with the baby Jesus. When the manger scene was set up in their home, she exclaimed, "Baby Jesus and Mary and Joseph have come to our house." A convergence occurred in a hardware store when Meghan and her mother were shopping. Meghan discovered a large Nativity scene made of plastic with lights inside. She studied it for awhile and then asked, "Mommy, can we sing Away in a Manger to the baby Jesus?" In the midst of the bustle that we all know so well, in the middle of a hardware store, heaven touched earth when Meghan and Mommy stood and sang Away in a Manger, no crib for his bed...

During the second World War, the Jewish Defense Committee in Belgium placed a Jewish boy with a Christian family. Maurice Heiber, who placed the boy, tells this story.

One of the assistants came to me and said, "The boy has to be moved."

I asked, "Why?"

"He's a thief."

I said, "How can a five or six-year-old boy be a thief? That's impossible."

"They don't want to keep him."

I said, "You must have made a mistake. I"ll go and see."

I asked the people what had happened.

"Yes, he's a thief. Our little girl got a manger for Christmas, and he stole the little Jesus. Our little girl is very upset. She won't eat."

I asked, "How do you know it's him?"

"He was the only one around. We don't want him anymore."

So I took the boy aside and spoke with him as to an adult. "Listen, you know that the Nazis want to kill all of us Jews. And here you are with good people trying to save you. Why did you steal?"

"Sir, I didn't steal. I have taken Jesus to hide him."

"What do you mean?"

"I know little Jesus is a Jew. The Germans could take him. So I hid him to save him."

When I told the family the story, they began to cry. They kept the child.

Pastor Wang Pao Thao who leads our Hmong congregation has a dramatic convergence to tell. His great-grandfather was headman of the clan back in Laos many years ago. When a buffalo was being prepared for sacrifice to the ancestral spirits and demons, a bolt of lightning came down from heaven and struck the buffalo. The buffalo was so energized and electrified, the people didn't dare come near. They were awe-struck and dumfounded. Pastor Wang's great-grandfather concluded that the worship in which they were engaged needed to stop. He had a vision in which he was told that there is only one God, and that they should cease worshiping spirits and demons.

For years, he was unclear as to the meaning of the vision, and unclear about how they should worship the one God, until the missionaries came. Their message of the one God and how God seeks to save us immediately filled the vacuum, and the entire clan became Christians. The headman also had a vision in which he was told of a terrible war in the future. His people would be forced to leave their home in Laos and be taken to a land filled with white people. There his Hmong people would worship the one God. The prophecy was fulfilled by the Vietnam War when his Hmong people sided with America. When the communists took over their homeland, they began executing the Hmongs, until they escaped into Cambodia, and our government relocated them to Merced and other places. To this day, Hmong Christians are persecuted in Laos, and Hmongs here in Merced are prohibited from visiting or moving back to their homeland.

Convergence of divine-human encounters may not always be as dramatic as a lightning bolt out of the sky, accompanied by clear, compelling visions; but week by week we hear Faith Moments delivered by laypersons of our congregation describing what God has done, and how God enters their lives. We hear testimonies about the power of prayer. Last week we heard Tom Montague describe how he experienced the healing warmth of God that not only speeded up the healing of his body and surprising the doctors, but also healed his attitude and outlook. Tom gives a powerful witness to convergence, how the Spirit interacts with humanity, how the spiritual invades the physical, how God saves and heals.

What is God doing to you and with you this Christmas? Don't get so busy and obsessed with details, you miss a convergence! By being here this morning, you have put yourself in a place where convergences are happening! The Holy Spirit is moving through our church in powerful ways--sometimes quietly, sometimes dramatically. People are making first-time commitments to Jesus Christ. People are being healed. We are making beautiful music as our choir grows to 33 singers. Numbers of children and youth are increasing and discovering how much they are loved. Heaven is touching the earth here.

What is God doing with you this Christmas? Are you discouraged? Do you feel frantic and hurried? Are you worried about your future? Do you feel lonely? Are you mourning the death of a loved one? Are you angry at God? Are you looking for something significant to do with your life? Celebrate the Christmas convergence! Come Tuesday evening to see it reenacted. Adore the baby in the manger. Open your heart. The Lord is waiting to touch your life with heaven.

© 1996 Douglas I. Norris