I Corinthians 13:4-7; I John 4:7, 11-12
The Rev. Tom Herbek
December 16, 2018
At this time of year, I feel the presence of God’s love more clearly than at other times. Something changes in our world, in the people around us, even in us– at this time of year.
Poet Ann Weems calls this a “Godburst”, akin to a cloudburst of God’s presence, in a way that touches our hearts.
When the Holy Child is born into our hearts
there is a rain of stars
a rushing of angels
a blaze of candles
this Godburst into our lives.
Love is running through the streets.
Perhaps in our world today, with all of the dysfunction in our world, and even closer to home, in our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our families, even ourselves at times, a Godburst would be really nice to experience- love running through the streets.
There is an ancient chant from the monastic tradition that I like: “Where love and caring are, there is God.” And Thomas Merton once wrote: “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business, and in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”
Not just at Christmas but throughout the year, we must remember that we are the hands and feet and voices of God. I especially like what columnist Regina Brett once wrote:
Instead of looking for proof of God’s handiwork in magic tricks, find it in the moment. Instead of looking for miracles from above, find them within. Instead of looking for heaven somewhere else, create a slice of it here. Instead of looking for a sign of God’s presence in a burning bush, a lightning bolt, or a crying statue, be present, and you’ll experience God everywhere.
Every time there’s a tragedy or a problem bigger than any solution we can see, we tend to ask, “Where is God?” Imagine what would happen if we stepped up to the plate, each of us, and said, “Here is God. Right here in me; right here in you.”
God is in each of us, in the midst of every tragedy and problem. It’s up to us to call forth our greatest light and love and be the miracle, right here, right now. –Be the Miracle
The miracle that we seek in our world is within each of us. We are fortunate enough to be able to make a difference, to live a life that matters.
The amazing thing about the Christmas Godburst is that we are a part of it, that it happens within us and through us. As Dr. Seuss wonderfully said: “To the world, you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world.”
Sr. Joan Chittister tells what can happen when a Godburst comes along:
It was a cold day, one of those late fall days along the banks of Lake Erie when the rain is heavy, almost snow, cold to the bone. The Soup Kitchen is always over-full on those days. If the guests are not hungry they are chilled to the marrow. On those days, homeless people, jobless, some of them sick, all of them living out of shopping carts or garbage cans, come in off the streets and stay till it closes. It is, if nothing else, a place to warm up and talk a bit to the longtime staff, who call each of them by name before they leave the kitchen to face the long damp night alone.
The sister at the counter that day didn’t really know the man in the long black overcoat all that well. He had come by a few times before with leftovers from an office party. A few times he simply walked up the steps, handed one of the sisters an envelope at the door, and left. Some days he dropped in and did some of the heavy work of filling the pantry shelves. This day he came in carrying hams to donate and, seeing the size of the crowd, stayed to fill plates in the serving line.
But it wasn’t the sight of him serving salads that was so surprising that day. After all, some people make a regular ministry of it. Whole teams of them have come one day a week for years. Without them, the kitchen couldn’t possibly survive. But this was different.
Just as he got ready to leave for the afternoon, coat on and scarf tight around his neck, he noticed that one of the guests sat at the end of the table, his legs pressed against the heating element, his summer sandals wet. Summer sandals. He was wearing summer sandals. He was wearing summer sandals with open toes and sling back heels over his bare feet. On the fringe of winter.
In a heartbeat, the man in the long black overcoat and silk scarf reached down, took off his shoes, handed them to the sister at the counter, and walked out. In bare feet. “Wait,” she ran after him, “you can’t go like that, without these. It’s cold out there.” The man kept moving down the street. “I know,” he called back, “that’s why I left them.”
It’s a story that has stayed with me for years. It is a true story. It really happened. A well-to-do man saw a homeless man in summer sandals on a cold day, bent over, took his own shoes off, and walked away barefoot.
The world simply cannot do without us, no matter what our level of society. We all have some kind of gift to give, some philanthropy to do. We have no right to default on the price of being human.
God did not finish creation. We are put here to do our part in completing the project. What else can possibly be worth a life?
–Welcome to the Wisdom of the World
Perhaps at Christmas, we might be willing to give up our
own shoes. Maybe at Christmas, if we go
barefoot for a minute, we will understand why God sent God’s son. It was a clear message that love is what it’s
all about. It was a clear message that,
even if people can’t see God, if they see us give up our shoes, then they will
see the love of God in us and in our world.
We are co-creators of life on this earth. God started it, but God expects us to continue, to use the love that is created within us to reach out to the people who need us.
We don’t have to be wealthy to participate in a Godburst. God is quite willing to use every one of us, wealthy or poor, or somewhere in between.
Wilma Garrett describes what happened to her:
WOW, what a day today has been! In the Walmart parking lot I saw a homeless man sitting on the side of the road with a sign saying “Dog in Pound- Need Help.” Of course, what do I do? I’ve seen every sign in the world except that one. I’ve seen “I need a beer,” “Lost my job,” “Need help”- I could go on forever- but never this sign.
I tried to pull to the side, and, of course, everybody’s ticked off because I’m blocking them, and I asked him what his deal was. I gave him my card. I asked him how much it was to get his dog out of the pound. He said $120. Well, I had $8 to my name. I told him I’d see what I could do. First I called the pound to verify the man’s story; they said, yes, it was $120. I asked why so much. The pound said because $35 was for an impoundment fee; then they gave it rabies shots and a heartworm test (the dog was negative), and put on flea prevention. They said the dog was in good shape.
So now, since I don’t have a dime to my name, I call a dear friend and I tell her about this guy. She says, “Well, go back and find out his story,” so I did: thirty years old and his name is Patrick. I talked to him for a few minutes, and he told me his circumstances and stuff. I told him, “I’m getting the money to get your dog out, so let’s go down to the pound.”
Me and Patrick go down to the pound, they give him all his paperwork, and they get a copy of the rabies test. Frederick is the dog’s name; when he came out of the pound, he was shaking, he was so happy to see his owner.
Sometimes you just have to dig deeper and do what’s right in your heart. That man loves that dog. On his backpack were the dog’s bowl and toys. He’s helping the dog against the world. Patrick was very, very grateful; he had tears in his eyes when the dog came out. We’ve all been in bad situations in our lives,
so remember to always pay it forward. You never know who that person might be that you can help, but I know for a fact that man loves his dog, and he tried to give me the money he had collected. I wouldn’t accept it because maybe he can have some dinner tonight. He said his dog eats before he does. Wow, that sounds like me too. I wish I had the money to get the man a room for a week and let him and Frederick regroup, but unfortunately I don’t. All I can do is give him his dog and pray that life gives the man a break. I dropped them off back in the Walmart parking lot in Huntsville and cried when they left.
God, please bless Patrick and Frederick tonight.
- Love What Matters
When a Godburst happens, we never know what will happen to us, or to our heart. When he was here in 2010, Marcus Borg used an extraordinary phrase to describe this. He called it “the hatching of the heart.”
Perhaps this Christmas, the hatching of the heart, the Godburst that we will experience, will enable us to see in the darkness around us and in the darkness of our world, the love of God and the presence of love that is all around us in surprising ways.
The light that came into the darkness has not been extinguished. The love of God is rampant in our world and in the people around us, (and perhaps even in a few cats and dogs, who knows?), and also in us.
We may just be able to experience the hatching of our hearts, and the light of this Christmas love may be the incubator for it to happen. And then we can give this love to others who need it desperately.
This Christmas, my hope for each of you, for all of us, for friends and family and strangers and people I agree with, and people I disagree with on lots of things, is that we will each experience a Godburst this Christmas, will see life differently, will each feel the warmth of unexpected love this Christmas, and will be surprised by the light that shines in the darkness, a gift of God to each of us, and the most extraordinary gift we can give to each other.
May we all feel a cloudburst of God’s presence in the days ahead, a Godburst, and may we be a part of the love that is running through the streets, for us and for each person we meet.
Merry Godburst this Christmas!