First Congregational Church
December 15, 2013
Third Sunday in Advent
"Star of Unity"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
There's a little video running around on the internet about an airline called WestJet. As guests were waiting at their gate for two particular flights, there was an interactive video where Santa was talking to the guests about what they wanted for Christmas. While the flights were in the air, a bunch of the employees from WestJet ran out to purchase those Christmas wishes, brought them back to the terminal, wrapped and labeled them, and sent them down the baggage carousel. The guests were gifted with everything from socks and underwear to flight vouchers and even a large screen tv.
The brilliant part of the video was that while the focus was obviously on the gifting, especially as it was the night before Christmas, they also lifted up the fact that it took working together to make it happen. I don't think we think about it that way, but anything that we do around here is a great display of our unity: from moving a mountain of shoeboxes from one level to another to hosting a little hot dog sale on the front lawn, to the decorating of an entire church for Christmas. When we undertake such endeavors, we are living out the prayer that Jesus prayed that last night in the Garden. He had been praying for the disciples, but in the passage for today, he prays for us.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Thank you, Ann. If we had been there that night, I wonder if any of us would have been able to take in the surroundings. Was there a whisper of a breeze or a good wind? Were there crickets singing? We do know that it was a full moon, because he was crucified the day after the Passover, and Passover is to be celebrated during the full moon of the current season. But were there clouds? Could the stars be seen? Did the Star of Unity, the Star of Bethlehem, the Star of Hope and Creation shine down on Jesus and the sleeping disciples? Since stars live millions of years, the same stars that shined on them shine on us.
Now let’s see here. [Rummaging through the box] What a mess! (Hold up the twisted lights.) Every year I tell myself that when I put the decorations away after the New Year, I am going to organize them and mark all the boxes. But what I end up doing is just throwing it all in a box and I figure that I can figure it all out in December. Grandmother, you would NOT be happy. If I could just find an end....
No, Grandmother, you would not be happy with me and this mess! You were always such an organized person. You seemed to have everything together. Everything planned. Everything figured out. “A place for everything and everything in its place.” That’s what you liked to say. I wish I was a little bit more like you. What a mess! Pause
You went through a lot in your life, yet you kept it all together somehow. Grandfather served in Korea … and had to leave you all alone with Father as an infant. Then Father went off to Viet Nam … and you prayed and prayed and prayed … that God would keep him safe. And cousin Bobby, he went off to Iraq … I’m not sure he’ll ever be the same. Great men. They served their country well. But it’s hard on families, all this war and hatred. A mixed up world, that’s what it is. Pause
And there was other stuff too. Divorces in the family. The layoffs at the plant. Kacey and her problems. Yet you kept us all unified through it all. You kept us laughing and loving and caring for one another. In spite of this mixed up, messed up and broken world, you did your best to keep us all together.
(Frustrated at the knots.) Shoot. It’s a mixed-up and messed-up world. ... I’d better get something to clean this up…Exit.
Thank you, Andy. Part of the reason that the stable scene in Bethlehem has such appeal is because it helps us to set aside the mixed-up and messed-up world in which we live. Granted, it was probably mixed-up and messed-up for Mary and Joseph. But compared to any of the number of things we can read in the newspaper or hear at the barber or beauty shop, a smelly dark stable may seem like a beautiful place. Whether there were clouds the night Jesus was born, regardless of the moon phase, keeping watch over everyone in the stable that night were the stars. The silent sentinels of the sky unite us with Jesus' death and birth and with all our ancestors before him.
The birth that we await to celebrate restored the brokenness between us and God and it gives us a unity that we can't get any other way. We still live in a disjointed, divided and discordant world. But one of the great Christian authors, A. W. Tozer put it into a practical understanding of our unity.
He said, “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become “unity” conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”
In that same mode, another great Christian writer, G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.” A more current Christian writer, Joni Eareckson Tada once wrote, "Believers are never told to become one. We already are one and are expected to act like it.”
In his prayer, his prayer for us, Jesus didn't put any parameters on our unity. He didn't say that we would be one in race or religion or eye color or any other way that can divide us. His prayer was that we would be one, as he is in God and God is in him; that God loves us as God loves Christ. That's a big part of the gift we received all those years ago, under the same stars that will shine on us tonight - snow or no snow. As the day we celebrate the Star of Unity shining in all of us comes another week closer, let us enter into that week in prayer.
God of All, we may not always fully appreciate it, but we thank you that you have loved us before you created the world. We thank you for loving us to the point of sending your son, a baby, that we would know what it is to be in you and you in us. Help us to be mindful that each of those we meet are also in you as you are in them. Remind us that we are tuned to the baby born in a stable, and that the star that shined on him unites us to him as it shines on us. Reinforce this sense of unity as we live out the ministries you set before us.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.