My father came home one day with two large pieces of canvas that snapped together to make a long, rectangular tent. The tent became one of my most treasured possessions. Out in the backyard; using a rope and some wooden pegs, in a matter of minutes, my brother and I had a new and exciting place to play.

Every morning, we would set out across the yard and crawl into the tent. That tent launched a thousand adventures. It offered a fine feeling of refuge; a space of solace and shelter; and not only for us, but also for a community of assorted crickets, grasshoppers, toads and bees.

The power of the tent? It lived as a place limited only by the boundaries of our imaginations. All the kids from the neighborhood were drawn to it. You could hide there and someone would come find you. You could daydream. The tent became a place to negotiate the rules of the games we made up. It was a great place for a picnic.

Summer came, and it got hot in that tent; pitched in the full sun of our backyard. So we took it apart and discovered new and different things to do with it.

Now we had two tents. We could drape them over bushes or rope between trees, or even over the clothesline: two smaller tents. Or by adding old sheets and blankets, we could have a clubhouse, a fort, a castle.

We played with that tent: pitching it in the yards and over the shrubbery of three different parsonages in three small North Carolina towns until all that remained were strands of battered canvas.

The mystery of that tent? The capacity to free the imagination; to focus concentration and life energy with creativity; the silence of it, the solace of it; the sense of refuge from a world, sometimes overwhelming to a child. That mystery remains with me.

John’s gospel bypasses angels and shepherds; stars and donkeys; magi and camels in telling the story of Jesus’ birth. John chooses instead the language of poetry; the language of mystery. “In the beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God and the Word was God. …And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”

“Lived among us”: a weak translation for what John is trying to express here. “God pitched God’s tent among us”: that is a more accurate rendering of what John says.

“God pitched God’s tent”. Just as God – during Israel’s forty years of exodus wanderings – commanded God’s people to pitch a tent in the desert so that God might dwell among them; so God comes in Jesus, God’s presence among us. In Jesus, God moves into the neighborhood and pitches a tent in the backyard of humankind.

For John, the mystery, the tension, the scandal of Christmas rests in the nearness of God; in the wonder of God’s holy Word made flesh.

What has happened to us? To our excitement over the creative, imaginative, possibilities of God? To the power of God’s tent, the Word incarnate, in our midst?

In the years before the advent of cable television, before the world of all our texting, tweeting, pinging gadgets, Thomas Merton wrote from the silent interior of Gethsemani Abbey. “People do not want to hear any more words,” says Merton. “In our mechanical age, all words have become alike. To say ‘God is love’ is like saying ‘Eat Wheaties.’”

Like any strong prophet, Merton could see what others could not or would not see: a people inundated with words; by politicians trying to persuade us, by advertisers trying to hype us, by institutions trying to spin us. We have developed an immunity to language, to words; even a flesh and blood Word, sent straight from the heart of God.

What has happened to the mystery and power of God’s word come close? If we can hear with welcoming ears, listen! “I am living water. Believe in me and never thirst. I am the bread of life. Come to me and never be hungry. I am the light no darkness can overcome. I am the Good Shepherd and will lay down my life for you. “

“Arise! Walk! Go! Sin no more! Your faith makes you well!” Active and moving; creative and new: in Jesus, God pitches a tent of mercy, grace, and redeeming love; reaching out to heal and make new all that is wayward and broken in us and in our world.

God’s plan bumps up against our immunity to words. Hardly anyone notices God’s tent pitched in the neighborhood anymore. Christ’s body, God’s Word incarnate; the church lives as but a whisper in the world’s ear.

Jerome Berryman say that the church has worn people out with all our words about words; our flat, passionless, uninspired and uninspiring speech. Our tired language serves to further inoculate people; building up their resistance to God’s work, spoken in Jesus.

Perhaps it is time to recover the power of the tent; a place limited only by the boundaries of our imagination. God’s tent; pitched in the neighborhood; pitched in Jesus; a Word on the move.

A church in Baltimore pitched a tent in a drug ridden city park one summer; offering Bible School to the neighborhood. Children came. Their families came. Other churches came. And together they created a zone of safety, a place of refuge and connection, in a stricken neighborhood: all because a handful of God’s people pitched a tent.

My husband was baptized and confirmed in a church on the corner of Wilson and Donaldson in San Antonio years ago. There were about a hundred kids in his confirmation class. The church existed because a young World War II veteran; an army chaplain; purchased an army surplus tent; pitched in on a vacant lot, and began to knock on doors in the neighborhood and preach the gospel.

A church pitches a tent under a bridge and then shows up everyday, everyday, everyday with food, personal hygiene items, and first aid supplies. A community of homeless gathers: a community that begins to pray for and with one another; a community of healing. Word gets around: here there is healing and mercy and compassion; all because someone pitched a tent.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” God pitches a tent in our backyard and invites us to come and play; to stretch the boundaries of our imaginations towards the mystery of God, born to us in Jesus; to speak words of our own, with our lips and with our lives. Words full of grace. Words full of truth.

My dear friends; what do you think? Would you like to join me, and together, let’s pitch a tent?

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