Friday, August 4, 2017
Sermon for Camp Phoenix, 2017: Christmas Presence
We have been on quite a journey this week. We started with the anticipation of Advent, as we looked forward to the coming of God to live among us, seeking a home among us and in our hearts. We centered our week on the celebration of Christmas, even though we are in the middle of summer, to remember that the coming of Jesus as God living among us can be celebrated at all times and in all places. We ended the week with a celebration of Epiphany, when the coming of the Wise Men reminds us that Jesus is Savior for all the world, not just for people of his own region or culture, but for everyone.
Jesus came to teach us how to be fully human, and in doing that, to be children of God following in the footsteps of the Son of God. What can we learn about this from the stories of Jesus’s birth?
Jesus was born as God-with-us to remind us that we all have been made by God and are deeply loved and precious in God’s sight. Each of us and ALL of us are so treasured by God that God sent God’s Son to us. Jesus came to show us that the way of God is the way of real justice and real peace. Jesus came as a healer to show us that the way of God is the way of reconciliation, kindness, forgiveness, and loving each other.
And the truth is, it’s sometimes hard to find real justice and peace in the world, because it’s hard to find real community in the world. If we all lived by ourselves, we wouldn’t need to talk about justice and peace, or healing hurts that many people carry from the actions of others.
So Jesus came to show us how to live together as a community of faith, calling us to see that our differences as individuals can be embraced rather than being things that divide us. Here at Camp Phoenix, we come together as a special community. We come from all over the diocese and even beyond. Yet we live together in family units—sparrows, finches, robins, blackbirds, falcons, owls, eagles. And as we do crafts and swim and play games and learn new songs and pray together, we come to see that Jesus’s presence can shine forth out of every single one of us.
As we think about the Christmas season, most people think of presents-- P-R-E-S-E-N-T-S.
But I want to ask you to think about something else: PRESENCE.
Jesus is the living presence of God’s wisdom and mercy in the world. That presence still today shines like a light from the hearts of all those who seek to live into the promises we will make in a few moments as we are reminded of our baptism, and as Jonas and Alastair will soon promise along with us: promises to renounce evil, put our trust in Jesus, and try to live according to his example for us, as it has been handed down to us throughout time, and as we hear summarized every time we pray before Communion.
The presence of God is made visible to the world through our words and actions, especially as we seek to serve Christ in ALL persons, whether friend or stranger, and love our neighbors as ourselves even when they annoy us. The presence of God is made known to the world through us, as we are willing to strive for justice and peace among all people, and as we respect the dignity of every human being, of every precious life we encounter.
Jesus came into the world as one of the most fragile things imaginable: a newborn human baby, born into a poor family in a dusty barn—not even a house! in one of the most oppressed corners of a powerful empire. But he came into that particular family for a reason—so we would know that God understands all the problems we may have in our lives: so that we would know that Jesus himself understood injustice, and poverty, and oppression.
Jesus faced all kinds of challenges that while he was growing up could have made him angry and resentful, because his family did not have it easy from the moment of his birth. But instead of lashing out, Jesus responded with love, with real strength, in seeking to show us a better way to live in which we truly care for each other—in which we heal each other, forgive each other, and cherish each other.
God came to dwell with us AS one of us so that we could learn how to live as eternal children of God. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has a saying he likes to use: “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” Jesus again and again reminds us to love God, and love your neighbor, and love yourself, too, as being a beautiful child, beloved by God, whether you’re three months old or 9 years old, or 12 years old, or even 62 years old.
Jesus came into the world as a vulnerable little child to remind us that we are all children of God. Jesus is still present among us today, and asks to come into our hearts and minds and spirits. It is good that we remember that we close each night here at Camp Phoenix singing a special prayer remembering that we share that same baby Jesus who needed a place of safety, a place of sanctuary. And we can give it to him, as our best present or gift—the gift of ourselves, offered to God and to each other:
Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary,
pure and holy, tried and true.
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living
sanctuary for you.
As we get ready now to remember our baptisms together, as one Camp Phoenix family, we will remember that at our baptism, we promise to be sanctuaries, pure and holy, for God. As a community of faith, we can help each other be sanctuaries for God. We promise to love each other and support each other as followers of Jesus forever, even after camp is over. Even when camp comes to an end, the love that Jesus brings into the world will remain with us and keep us together as one family of God, always.