University Congregational Church
Dec. 21, 2014
Stirring Up Advent ~ Recipes for Relationships: Intimacy
Once, there was a little boy whose daddy traveled away from home often. The daddy had decided (because he wasn’t there to read bedtime stories to his son every night), that he would simply record them on a tape recorder, so the boy could play one whenever he wanted. One evening, as the dad was across the country on business, he called his son. “How are you?” the dad asked.
“Fine,” replied the boy, “but I wish you were here to read a story to me”.
“Remember? You have the recordings I made… listen to one of them.”
The little boy paused for a moment and then said, “No Daddy, I want a story told by someone with skin and teeth.”
Nothing could be more intimate than God coming to dwell in our midst, to be one with us. God with skin and teeth. God didn’t send a text message or phone us up. It wasn’t an angelic messenger, or a post card. God didn’t email, video chat, or blog about love. Nor did God send out a beautifully formed Christmas letter. God came in the flesh to communicate God’s divine love for us face-to-face.
In the spring of 1987, I was having a crisis. My beloved Papa was dying. And I was pregnant AGAIN. I didn’t want another baby yet-and certainly not a boy! Grouchy comments. Papa died. A week later Adam was born. Took one look and exclaimed “He’s perfect” God knew better than me! I sat with him on my lap looking in the face of a Holy Child.
Many of us are old enough to remember an age when there were actual people doing the jobs now computerized or automated.
- Gas attendant jobs are no more
- Bank tellers are fewer and ATMS are all over
- Telephone receptionists have been replaced by automated answering services.
Some of these automations have improved and eased our lives. However, something is lost: that face-to-face person or that real live voice on the phone gave us a sense of value and relationship.
But God knows that people need another’s touch – that grace is best delivered personally – and that love is best shown face-to-face.
Our traditional word for today is unusually full of voice – the reader is transported into an ancient setting with two cousins comparing pregnancies. This reading, in the words of Will Willimon, is better suited to an obstetrics waiting room than a sacred text.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Luke 1:39-45
Elizabeth and Mary were two of the first people given the opportunity to experience God up-close-and-personal. The divine was being born in their bodies. Incarnation – God-with-us – was unfolding in the room. Few people were privileged enough to actually get this personal with God. It was an intimate moment!
Each year, we are asked to welcome God among us. At Christmas, we come face-to-face with God through the child Jesus and other children. The here-and-now bursts forth with divine presence.
Something amazingly wonderful is about to happen: God is coming into our midst, into our chaotic world, into our homes and into our lives in person! Ann Weems wrote: When the Holy child is born into our hearts there is a rain of stars, a rushing of angels, a blaze of candles. This God burst into our lives. Love is running through the streets.
We’ve been talking about our relationships with one another and what we can learn from God’s relationship with us. Exploring covenant, grace, empowerment, and now intimacy, we’ve discovered the best of relational living.
Intimate relationships play a central role in the overall human experience. Humans have a general desire to belong and to love, which is usually satisfied within an intimate relationship. These relationships involve feelings of loving one or more people, romance, physical attraction, sexual relationships, or emotional and personal support between the members. Intimate relationships allow a social network for people to form strong emotional attachments. When I say “intimacy” today, I am speaking of both physical and emotional intimacy.
God is in love with the creation. We know this from the stories of creation that start our Bible. God is lonely and creates company in the form of animals, plants, and humans. Each creation is blessed and affirmed by the divine. God’s need for love is satiated to the point that God is able to rest completely after creating.
Have you ever thought about that? That God is in love with you? The definition of intimacy includes “belong”, “love”, “romance”, and “emotional attachment”. God’s love for us is that intimate!
Do you remember that joy of your first love? Passion, excitement, complete adoration and even fixation? It felt like the world was a brighter place and everything had a glow.
The mystics of the church are known for experiencing God as lover in their lives. Do not assume that this intimacy they experienced with God was any less intellectual than others. To the contrary, mystics provide eloquent writings and theological insights that challenge us to this day. But they also realized that the love we share with God is very intimate.
The physical signs of religious ecstasy are described in a remarkable passage by St. Isaac: (I am using his quote with the male pronouns, but this applies to women as well) “Love for God is naturally ardent and when it fills a man (sic) to overflowing, leads the soul to ecstasy. Therefore the heart of a man who experiences it cannot contain or bear it, but undergoes an extraordinary change according to its own quality and the quality of the love which fills him. Its sensible signs are the following:
“The man’s face becomes joyous and aflame and his body is warmed. Shame and fear leave him and he becomes like one in ecstasy. The force which keeps his mind collected flees from him and he is as one out of his mind. A terrible death is for him a joy, and his mental contemplation of heavenly things is never broken. Even when absent, he converses as if present though unseen. His knowledge and sight naturally cease, and he no longer feels his movements among sensory objects. Even if he does something, he is not aware of it, for his mind is on high in contemplation, and his thought always seems to be conversing with someone else.” www.esoterictexts.tripod.com/DesertFathers
There is a story about two women having lunch at an elegant hotel restaurant one noon. They were obviously celebrating something. They were approached by a mutual friend who asked what the occasion was. One woman replied, “We are celebrating my baby boy’s birth!”
“Where is he?” inquired the friend.
“Oh,” said the mother, “you didn’t think I’d bring him, did you?”
If you haven’t taken a moment this Advent to stand outside, arms stretched toward heaven, spinning around and around, and bursting with complete, pure awe, perhaps you haven’t experienced God up close and personal this year.
If you haven’t snuggled your face up to a baby’s and taken a deep breath of clean, fresh baby smell, perhaps you haven’t experienced God up close and personal this year.
If you haven’t marveled aloud at the miracle of new birth into our topsy-turvy world, perhaps you haven’t gotten intimate with God this season.
If you’ve been focused on the stock market, without noticing Christ being born in our midst, perhaps you’ve missed the incarnation.
If you’ve gotten too busy to laugh at silly old men in Santa outfits…
If you haven’t dug into your pocket for some change for the pantry or Operation Holiday…
If you haven’t forgiven someone, or said, “Merry Christmas!” to a complete stranger…
If you haven’t had a face-to-face, personal conversation with God lately…
You are missing out on the intimacy God offers humanity at Christmas.
Unto us a child is born.
Unto us a child is given.
And his name shall be called Emmanuel – God with us.