A Sermon by Marvin K. White
In those days, a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
When they saw this, they made known what had been told to them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2:1-20
I would like to begin my sermon here:
You are working the graveyard shift and on this flock-watching, night job, you have to be hyper vigilant and on alert. You have to know what is a thing and what is a thing making a shadow. You have to know the variations of dark. You have to not mistake the wind for a predator. When you are working this shift it means that your eyes have adjusted to dark. This means your eyes have probably been adjusting for years, and generations and centuries to the dark.
Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
You see, they might have been experiencing, “Light Adaptation,” because it occurs when we move from our dark into our bright light. It occurs when we are momentarily dazzled because the sensitivity of our eyes have been set to dim. We are experiencing light adaptation (for years, for generations and for centuries.) And when our eyes are stimulated by large amounts of light, the photopigment in them are broken down instantaneously, producing a flood of signals, resulting in the glare. And what is your response, in the twinkling of your eyes, now that suddenly, there is more light than dark.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see…”
Notice it doesn’t say “Do not be afraid; for hear…” It says that once your eyes have adjusted to the light, you have to see things differently. You have to “see” this good news. Yes, you’re a shepherd and yes this is how your eyes have been trained but yes you’re also looking at a new reality. But don’t just take my word for it, the angel says, in full transparency and unearned grace, “go see it for yourself!”
We’re not just offering you a word. We’re not smoking and mirroring you. We’re not shooting off pyrotechnics at a gospel concert. We’re not just offering you mere platitudes, empty phrases, or opiates for the masses. What the angel was saying is what we are saying to you at Glide—That the system that keeps you feeling around in the dark, about your possibilities as a woman, about your possibilities as gay, lesbian, bi or trans, about your possibilities as a black person, has been disturbed by the light.
And no matter what you call it; the angel, logic, advance, empowerment, economic, racial or social justice, we know now that ultimately light has no opposite, nor does life, nor does love. And no matter what you call it; the thing that you are afraid of; the thing that goes bump in the night, it is not the opposite of the light, it is made visible by the light, so that you might deal with it.
I come to tell you beloved, that a day is here…And you could not have planned for this because you were minding your business and the sheep, and being sheepish with your gifts. But the light said, “Trust me.” And the light said, “Trust the light inside of you too.” And trust the light that comes to you, because the miracle is…
“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:”
For all the people of the Tenderloin, for all the elderly, for all are in recovery, for all are HIV Positive, for all dreamers, and artists and singers, and for all living in and running from war torn and war tearing regions of the world.
I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people who have been devoid of good news and great joy all of their lives, because…
“…to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. To you Andrea, to you Paula, to you Sheryl, is born this day…a savior!”
And we didn’t even know we were pregnant. Because capitalism and white supremacy and patriarchy has us working our fingers to the bone and our bodies into the ground like stakes, for their sake, but the light breaks through and it’s about seeing what has been illuminated, that which has been hidden from us, that which we have not faced, but is now, at the very least, faceable, because the light, that which comes to us despite ourselves, makes us immaculate. We don’t have to show up ready, the light is the invitation to transform us.
“This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
And you must trust it even if you are told to go on a Sunday after Christmas to a church called Glide, in the tenderloin, to see it. And even it cries #SayHerName or #BlackLivesMatter or blocks a freeway or shuts down a mall, because we’re not talking about the light that comes on from the flip switching comfort of our homes, we are talking light coming to and leading out from the streets.
This will be a sign for you: You might have thought that you were returning to your normal life, and you might have thought that you were returning to the same old broken world, and you might have thought that racists and terrorists and homophobes and misogynists have won, but…
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
That’s you! And that’s what awakening is. And that’s what social justice is. And that’s what love is. And you didn’t even know you were pregnant! You not ready for this baby. You ain’t got the babies onesies. You ain’t got the baby’s booties. You ain’t got the baby receiving blankets. No bibs, no bottles, no formula, no diapers, no crib, no stroller, and no pacifiers.
The baby is here and this world is invested in you not knowing that you are not only chosen to carry the hope, the dream, the love, and the healing into the world, but it matters not if you are single, or a woman. It matters not that this birth is between you and your god, or you and your hard work and you and your practice and you or your goodness.
The baby is here, born to you, and the baby will not be raised in the dark. It will be raised in the light, by you and us, in a world like Mary’s, that has no room for us, which has convinced us that we are unfit to raise our own Christ, and has convinced us that no one would ever believe we could give birth into the world the salvation. It’s our baby! And we’re ready!
I believe the Christ has to be born in the Tenderloin. And Love has to be in exile. Love has to be carried. And love has to be delivered by a young woman carrying not her fiancés but her God’s child. I ask Beloved not that you believe in the God of my understanding, in new sources of light, the discovery of a new renewable energy source, or in angels, but that you know today that what you been through doesn’t dictate the beauty that you can birth into the world. Because love is not looking for optimal accommodations, not looking for you to get right, but love in the right time, in a social justice and faith stirring moment such as this, will contract and give through you, birth to itself.
“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”
There is a word, it is Palinopsia, and it is the lingering of light trails left in your eyes after the brightness has actually gone. It is the visual disturbance and the persistent or recurrent image after the stimulus has been removed. We can move together in that linger as a beloved community and know that The truth does not come to darkness to keep it dark. The truth comes to light. Hope comes to light. Dignity comes to light. And love comes to light.
“So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told to them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.”
This is what a revelation is. This is what an epiphany is. It comes to the least expected, out of nowhere and into time, Kairos time, the right and the opportune time to change the course of our histories. Look at the baby. Got your nose, got your eyes, got your ears, got your little…
“But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”
But Mary? She remembered that God is everything and so everything is possible through her. She didn’t say “I don’t need a man” to Joseph. Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. She let him marry her and declared divinity, partnership, awareness, and co-creation with him. She went on record with him. Got counted with him. Counted on him. She knew that all of creation are conjoined twins with and co-parents of, the Christ.
“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told to them.”
And finally beloved, the story is not over. Because both marginalized people and outsiders, literally and figuratively, are who god wants to know that god’s word is flesh. Is bond. And is kept.
If the shepherds’ lives and Mary’s life teach us anything, it’s that the light comes to us first, despite a world that will try to tell us otherwise. We are the shepherds and we are the Mary. We have seen it with our own eyes. We have expert testimony and witness. In the darkest hours, we know that the light of the world has come and it is hope, and it is here, and it is born to us, and belongs to us all.
To God be the Glory.