Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"I Wish You were my Child" - Christmas Eve

Let me say at the outset how happy I am to be here tonight and to serve as the Rector of St. Paul’s Church. Last Sunday I became even more aware of how blessed I am when the Lay Reader accidently prayed for “Keith, our bishop.” That faux pas led several people to ask me if I have a desire to be a bishop some day. The answer, for reasons not interesting enough to go into, is no. But even more than bishop, I do not want to be the Archbishop of Canterbury. Rowan Williams, who now serves in that capacity, has to find ways to hold together the Anglican Communion, which wants to fray and fragment over a multitude of issues. He has critics on every side. In fact, one wag has gone so far as to name her dog after him. She posts on facebook comments such as “I am having a hard time house training Rowan” and “Rowan was misbehaving, so I put him in his cage.” Well, much of that comes with the job and none of it appeals to me.

But here is the single most significant reason I would not want to be Archbishop: he is charged with presiding at royal weddings. Can you imagine the pressure? The Archbishop who married Charles and Diana reversed two of Charles’ many middle names and never lived down the mistake. Betting odds soon will be posted on the likelihood of Rowan Williams making a error during the April wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. I don’t want to hold a position in the church where an entire nation wagers on my performance.

Royal weddings are rare events these days, yet there is something in them that helps us better understand the language of our Christian heritage, much of which is rooted in royal imagery. When Kate marries Will her life will change dramatically. Until now she has been a commoner, but that will come to an end when she marries and is given a yet-to-be determined title; a title which will confer on her certain rights, privileges, and responsibilities.

The Judeo/Christian tradition has used many metaphors to describe God, one of which is King. St. Paul held that all who are in Christ are adopted into God’s family and made fellow heirs with Christ. So, for you ladies, if your heart swoons at the notion of being in Kate’s shoes, consider what it means to be adopted into God’s royal family. We are showered in God’s riches. We receive grace upon grace. Our past mistakes are washed away and we receive the comfort and assurance of God’s Holy Spirit. And, we are given an inheritance of eternal life. Paul’s writes that if we are a part of God’s royal family then we are God’s ambassadors; people who understand that our every act, our every deed, and our every word is no longer a personal statement, but reflective of our God and King and done in service to Him.

Do you see yourself in this way? Do you think of yourself as being a royal ambassador for Christ? I suppose there are three reasons why a person may not. First, you may never have thought about it. You may never have taken the time to work through who you are and who God is and what it all means. Second, you may have thought about it and decided that you would rather live life on your own terms. You don’t think of yourself as representing Christ, but rather as representing yourself, and that for you is good enough. Or third, you have thought about what God offers to you and have come to believe that for one reason or another you are not worthy to receive it. You think you are just not good enough as you are right now, or maybe have done something in your past that you believe turned God away from you.

Perhaps you see yourself in one of those three characterizations, or perhaps you would describe yourself in another way. Wherever you find yourself, I want to invite you to listen to this brief passage from Mary Ann Bird’s autobiography, The Whisper Test:

I grew up knowing that I was different, and I hated it. I was born with a cleft palate; and when I started school, my classmates made it clear to me how I looked to them: a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided feet, and garbled speech. When my schoolmates would ask, “What happened to your lip?” I would tell them I had fallen and cut it upon a piece of glass.

I believed that no one could really love me.

There was, however, a teacher in the second whom we adored. Mrs. Leonard was her name. She was short, dumpy, round, and a sparkling woman. Annually we would have a hearing test. Now, I was deaf in one ear; but when I took the test I discovered that if I did not press my hand tightly on my good ear, as I was supposed to, I could pass the test. Every year, the teacher, sitting solemnly at her desk, would whisper something and we would repeat it. That was the test. In past years they would say something like “The sky is blue” or “You have new shoes.” But not Mrs. Leonard. When she gave the test to me she whispered something which God must have put into her mouth; seven words which changed my life. Mrs. Leonard whispered, “I wish you were my little girl.”

On this night that we celebrate God’s gift of God’s very self to the world, if you cover one ear and listen carefully you will hear God whisper, “I wish you were my little girl/my little boy.” If you have never taken the time to consider who you are in relation to who God is, God whispers “I want to confer on you the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of being a member of my royal family.” If you have thought about it, but turned away, God whispers to you, “I want to deliver you from the tyranny of living for self alone, and help you discover a new life grounded in me, the Creator and Author of all that is.” And if you have come to believe yourself unlovely and unlovable, God whispers, “I love you so much just the way you are and I want you – especially you – to be my ambassador.”

We say that this night is a holy night, and we are right to do so. But this night can also be a wedding night or – to shift the metaphor slightly – the night when you become adopted into God’s royal family. Perhaps you are not quite ready for that. Maybe tonight should be more like an engagement. But at the very least let tonight be for you the beginning of a courtship where you come to explore God’s love for you and all the implications that it holds. On this night when we gaze on the Child of God born in a manger, we hear the ever-so-faint words, “I wish you were my child too.”