I. May the words of my mouth …

Today, Christmas Day, Christians around the world make the outrageous claim that God entered human history, took on human flesh, and became human in Jesus, the babe of Nazareth. We Christians proclaim that this gift – God’s only son – is the greatest gift the world has ever known. We say this Jesus was a particular man, a man like no other, who lived at a particular place at a particular time. And, that he turned the world in which he lived upside down. He changed the rules – he taught and lived that all human beings were to be taken seriously; each treated with dignity no matter one’s gender, race, nationality, profession, culture or religion; that it is in forgiving that one is forgiven; in dying one receives eternal life; and that love is stronger than hate – for love is stronger than death itself.

This baby was nestled to his young mother who crooned a very strange lullaby. She sang of a world where the lowly were lifted up and the hungry were filled with good things, and the rich were sent empty away. And as he grew, he came to know those who loved him and thus he knew human joy. But as he lived by the teachings of this strange lullaby, some men and women came to hate and revile him and he knew human pain. So we proclaim this Jesus who suffered as we do, who experienced agony and loss, and in a nation, indeed a world, still reeling with the loss and devastation that took place on September the 11th and a war that rages in Afghanistan, we give thanks for a God who knows human agony.

There are many throughout these 2000 years who have said the gift of God’s very self was too good to be true, that Jesus was a fraud, and that this claim has been used to control other human beings. Tis true, there is no proof for God or his Son Jesus – the man we say was fully human and fully divine. It is the claim of faith – to stake one’s life on that which we cannot empirically prove. As Christians, however, this is the gift we proclaim, we celebrate, and we give thanks for on this Christmas Day.

Now there is a second part to this gift we have been given – that is – will we receive the one who wants to make such a claim on our lives? For if we take this Jesus, the God/Man, unto ourselves, He then will surely demand – probably gently, yet without ceasing – that we love and respect the Other, the stranger, those of faith traditions not our own and that we recognize that all humankind is created in the image of God – so that race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, years of education, physical ability, language and culture are not to create walls that separate us but are to be visible signs of God’s good, abundant creation.

Too easily and too often we say we receive the Christ-child and give thanks for His birth. Yet if we do, we take on a relationship that will change our lives – we will promise to love Him – God and the Neighbor as ourselves.

This business of receiving a gift is more complicated than we like to acknowledge. I am very fortunate in having a friend who taught me, in fact confronted me years ago to accept a gift of her friendship.

We both arrived in Washington as young brides and in a world that seemed very far from Winona, Mississippi and Raleigh, North Carolina and we instantly formed a relationship that became important to both of us. Only months after we met, Kit became seriously ill with a rare form of cancer and was among the first to be treated with the new drug, chemotherapy, at the National Institutes of Health. During the months she was hospitalized, I visited her often, kept her Scottie dog, and baked chocolate chip cookies for her husband as that was her Friday custom. Southern girls know that is what friends are for.

Our relationship was one of weeping together, laughing together, and spending many hours exchanging the stories of our lives. Sometime after she was released from the hospital, one winter day I became suddenly sick with a flu bug, having three young children at home and a husband away on business. I cleared the bedroom of dangerous objects, put the children on the floor and I went to bed. Soon there after, I received a call from Kit. About fifteen minutes later she arrived and in the fast-paced, unbelievably efficient, manner that is her signature style, she had put on three snow suits, three sets of boots and informed me she was taking David, Edward and Mary to her home for the rest of the afternoon and the night so I could sleep and do my best to fight the flu. I was too wrung out to argue, so I accepted. But just before this entourage went down the stairs, she came into the room with a basket full of our soiled laundry. I was appalled! “What,” I almost screamed, “are you doing with our dirty clothes?” In a very matter of fact way, she said, “I am taking them to my house to wash.” “You can’t do my laundry.” “What you do mean I can’t do your laundry.” “I just mean, you can’t do my laundry, that’s all.”

She dropped the basket on the floor and leaned over the bed directly in front of my face – “It’s okay for you to keep my dog, clean up after him, cook for my husband, and visit me three times a week in the hospital, but it’s not acceptable for me to put your clothes in my washing machine. The time has come to decide if we are really going to be friends or not. Today I am taking your children and your clothes because you are too sick to take care of them, but I want you to decide if we are going to have a relationship where you receive from me as I receive from you. So you have twenty-four hours to make up your mind.” With that, she and the children left.

Gift giving is indeed an intricate business. The giving is only accomplished if the other is willing to receive that which is offered.

So – now it is Christmas Day in the year 2001. Jesus the Christ is still among us, changing the rules, turning the world upside down – calling us to follow Him – to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him.

If we receive this gift – our lives will be forever transformed.

We will strive to love Him God and to love the neighbor – no matter who the neighbor may be. God gives us the option to receive or refuse. The choice is ours.

In the name of God, Amen.