homily preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Bellingham, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler, Associate Priest for Adult Formation
Saturday, December 24, 2016 (4:00 p.m.)
My wife, my daughter and I have a very old cat named Henry. Well, his full name is actually Henry Kramer Hosler the Ninth, Secret Agent Cat, but I’m not going to explain all those names right now. Suffice it to say that Henry is fifteen years old, and he’s a real piece of work.
Henry has been overweight most of his life, and now he has arthritis. His vet has switched him from dry food to super-expensive canned food, which we now feed him twice a day instead of only once, and to which we add flax oil to ease his aching joints. Because we’ve added morning feedings on top of evening feedings, Henry now shows up at our bedside every morning precisely an hour and a half before we intend to feed him, like a cute, furry, malfunctioning alarm clock. “Mrow! Mrow! Mrow! Mrow!” I hit the snooze button—or, rather, I pet the snooze button very gently. And we put up with all this because we love him.
|Yes, Henry really sits like this while he eats.|
Another side effect of Henry’s weight and age is that he has begun to lose feeling in his hindquarters, so he doesn’t always know where they are or what they are doing. Henry has been a reliable litter box user for most of his life, but more and more over the last several years he has begun to think outside the box. He’s making a real mess of our basement, but we clean it up dutifully because we love him. Oh yes, and Henry is frequently underfoot, and because he’s less spry than he used to be, sometimes we step on his paws right in the middle of trying to feed him. And then the apologies flow.
Have you ever had really demanding needs? Have you ever annoyed someone? Have you ever gotten in the way, or spoken too loudly, or interrupted at the most irritating moment and been shouted at unfairly? It happens among us humans like it happens with Henry. Maybe you also know what it’s like for another person to forgive you, or to apologize to you, and for warm feelings to return between you. Hopefully you even know what it’s like for someone to do the loving thing for your sake even when you don’t deserve it, and even when the warm feelings are far, far away.
Henry is a pest, but I sure do love him. And I’m reminded of that during those precious times when I lie down on the couch for a nap, and Henry jumps up and cuddles next to me. If I call him from the couch, he knows it’s nap time and he comes and joins me—a few minutes after I call, of course, just so it’s clear that it was his idea and not mine. Henry fits right under the crook of my arm. And waking up next to a purring or sleeping Henry is what heaven means to me. Sometimes I even sing to him.
Why on earth would I ever want my time with this little embodied creature to end? Henry’s high needs and quirky behaviors are so totally worth it.
God came to be with us, embodied and physical. God needed a diaper change and a warm breast full of milk. God had height, and weight, and smell, and a smile, and those things all kept changing. God tasted and touched. God laughed, and God sang. God gave up the unlimited nature of being God and emptied himself into human form, because it wasn’t enough to have created us. God had to know what it is like to be us. Because of Jesus, I know that God understands how I feel in all my own embodiment.
It’s not our good qualities that help people love us. It’s our limitations. It’s the things we do imperfectly or downright badly that make some people say, “I sure do love you.” Don’t believe me? Ask your parents. Just ask me, because Henry’s sins make me treasure his little life all the more. I know it’s not going to last all that much longer—maybe just a couple more years, maybe less. His time, like ours, is limited. And so our naps on the couch together are precious.
Henry is dependent on us. We are all dependent, too, and not just when we are children. All our lives, we are dependent on the love of God that holds our souls in life. We are dependent on God’s redemption to put our needs and our quirks and our sins into the larger perspective of that unending love.
You know, God isn’t just a nice idea, or a moral compass, or someone to talk to when it’s convenient or to cry out to when we’re desperate. And God isn’t out there somewhere in a galaxy far, far away. God is so close and so real that it’s easy not to notice that God is here. God is the one who cradles us and the one who challenges us to grow. God is the one who sings softly to us, lullabies about peace and justice and all things being made right. If you’ve ever felt that longing for a better world or that longing for union with God, that feeling that there’s something much bigger than yourself that you want to be a part of forever and ever, that’s because God has been singing these lullabies to you.
God is singing lullabies to you right now, whether you’re listening or not. God sings both inside and outside the church, though in church we try specifically to help each other to listen. God sings to us in joy and in pain. God sings when we’re at our best and when we feel like a total mess. God is always singing love.
God loves you on days when you feel loved and cherished and on days when you live in fear that they’ll learn the truth about you. God knows you far more deeply than you know yourself and never stops loving you, no matter what.
And Jesus? Jesus is God’s gift to us, God’s very self in a form we can understand. God loves us so much that God came to be with us on our own terms—just for the span of a little life, a life like yours and mine, a life like Henry’s. Jesus’ life had a beginning and an end, just like our lives do. But because that life comes from God, there will be no end for us—only more and more love.
This Christmas, let God love you. Make time to receive God’s love. Set aside the frantic rushing around and the cultural expectations and the family dynamics and just be still for a while. Be still as a family, because most kids treasure silence too, if you are patient and make time for them to practice it. Teresa of Avila said that prayer is simply wasting time with someone who loves you. Waste some time during these twelve days of Christmas. How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given!
My own prayer to God this Christmas is simply this: “Hold me.” I am assured of God’s love, but I ask for it anyway, because I need to give voice to my longing. I commend this prayer to you as well, and the courage to believe that maybe it’s the only prayer you need right now: “Hold me.” Once we learn to receive God’s love, the way Mary and Joseph received Jesus, amazing things can begin to happen. God is singing lullabies to you, and God is cradling you in the crook of God’s arm as you sleep.
May God bless you and all those you love this Christmas season. And may Jesus the Messiah come to be with you, to hold you, and to nap with you on the couch. Amen.