Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas is not God's "Yes, But." Christmas is God's "Yes, AND."

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Christmas Morning, 2014

What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

One of the things I learned this year was the difference between “yes, but” and “yes, and.”

I read it in a great book called Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott – a book that about how to do something we’re really bad at doing … having really difficult conversations with each other.

Imagine you’re talking with someone and really trying to convince them of something you feel deeply. And when you’re done, they look at you and say:

“Yes … but…”

The distance between those two words “yes” and “but” is like a plane hitting an air pocket and dropping 10,000 feet. Yes is way up here. Yes, I hear you. Yes, you have connected with me. Yes, I understand you.

But. (WHOMP)

Oh no, here it comes.

But negates the yes. When someone says “yes, but” what they’re really saying is:

“OK, I’ve been really nice sitting here listening to you flap your gums, but now I’m going to dismiss everything you just said and tell you how it really is.”

“Yes, but” denies our experience. “Yes, but” tells us what we think and feel is invalid. “Yes, but” tells us the person we’re talking to is not with us but against us.

Then there’s “yes, and.”

The difference of that one word means everything. When we substitute and for but, we stay up here with the yes.

“Yes, and” says “Yes, I have heard you … AND … here is something to add to it. A different dimension of reality to add to yours. Something you can consider just as I am considering what you have said.”

“Yes, and” affirms our experience. “Yes, and” tells us what we think and feel is valid. “Yes, and” tells us the person we’re talking to is not against us but with us.

Christmas is God’s “Yes, and.”

This has been an excruciating year for St. Louis. I don’t need to recite the litany. We know it all too well. I mean, four people were shot three blocks from here while we were having our lessons and carols service last night! And in addition to all the trauma this region has gone through and continues to go through, there’s all the other pieces of our lives that didn’t go on holiday while our city is rolling to a boil. Our aging parents. Our kids who are having trouble in school. Relationships that have grown stale and ended. Jobs lost and friendships strained. The pieces of our bodies that don’t do what they used to do and we know aren’t coming back!

Our Blue Christmas service – the one we advertise as “where it’s OK not to be OK at Christmas” – had the biggest crowd in the five years we’ve been doing it.

Perhaps more than any year in recent memory, we are aware of how broken our lives are, how deep our divisions are, how enormous the obstacles to healing are before us. Perhaps more than any year in recent memory, we have sung the blues and psalms of lament.

And so as we stumble into December 25 like a marathoner nearing the finish line of 2014, we hear the Christmas angels sing “Joy to the World” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Glory to the Newborn King” and the song is both welcome and familiar and deeply jarring because it is so different than the song that has been on our lips the rest of the year. And we wonder what to do with that familiarity and disconnect.

And then we hear this morning’s reading from John’s Gospel.

You see, John knew about darkness and pain. John’s Gospel was written at a time of utter hopelessness. The Temple – which Jews believed was the literal dwelling place of God on earth – had been torn down. God’s house was gone and most believed God with it. The Jewish people feared they were alone and abandoned … maybe forever. John’s community, still hanging on to their faith in Christ 60 years after Jesus’ death, were persecuted and shunned not only by Romans and Jews but by other Christians.

John knew about darkness. John knew about despair. John knew about excruciating years with litanies of trauma. John knew that the reality of these things was so plain that not only could they not be denied but that any God that denied them couldn’t be a real God at all. Any God that denied them couldn’t have brought them this far and certainly couldn’t take the any further.

But John knows God in Jesus Christ. John’s community has entrusted their very lives to God in Jesus Christ. And so John, in his exquisite poetry sings a Christmas story like no other. Not of a baby in a manger and a star and no room at the inn, but of a cosmic event that changes everything and brings hope just at the point where all seems lost:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

John’s Gospel is such a gift to us this Christmas, because it doesn’t dismiss the harsh realities of our lives. John’s Christmas story doesn’t tell us that those four people lying shot on the sidewalk last night  a few blocks from here aren’t any of our concern. John’s Christmas story doesn’t tell us what we’re feeling and living isn’t valid and real … but hold on because he’s going to set us straight.

John’s Gospel reminds us that Christmas is not God’s “Yes, but…” Christmas is God’s “Yes, and…”

Yes, life is really, really hard and we are struggling with so much on so many levels and we have been struggling with it for a long time and we are tired.

Yes, that is all true AND …. we never have been alone in that struggle. Yes, AND … since before the first beginning, God has been there bringing all things into being and even when we felt most alone, God has never been apart from us for even one second.

Yes, it seems every day we are confronted with deeper and deeper darkness in our lives. Even on Christmas Eve, the gunshots ring out we are tempted to despair.

Yes, that is all true AND … Christmas reminds us that all is not darkness. That in Jesus what has come into the world is life, and the life is the light of all people. Yes, AND …. even though the darkness is deep and isn’t going away anytime soon, neither will it ever win because Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it and never, never, ever will.

Yes, our lives are messy and complex. Yes, we have family relationships that are harder to negotiate than Middle East peace. Yes, we have a harder time every year making ends meet. Yes, we worry for our parents and we worry for our children.

Yes, that is all true, AND … we are not alone in that messiness and complexity. Yes, AND … in the midst of the challenges there is amazing grace and deep truth to guard us and guide us. Yes, AND … as deep as the swamp we feel we are in is sometimes, God’s love for each and all of us is immeasurably deeper.

To every hard reality of our lives, Christmas is God in Jesus Christ saying yes, I hear you. Yes, I feel you because I have been there myself. I know what it is to be born, to live this hard life we live – a life of suffering and joy, a life of laughter and tears. I know what it is to live in poverty and to feel like the whole world is against you. I know what it is to disappoint my father and to make my mother cry. I know what it is to have powerful people mad at me and not know where my next meal is going to come from. I know what it is to love deeply and to weep for an entire city.

To every hard reality of our lives, Christmas is God saying yes, I hear you. Yes, I feel you. Christmas is God saying Yes, AND the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a parent’s only child, full of grace and truth.

In Christmas, God isn’t trying to convince us our lives are any different than what we know them to be. God knows life too intimately and loves us too much to try to do that. Christmas is not God’s “Yes, but.” Christmas is God’s “Yes, and.” … so we know that our God is not against us but is God with us, Emmanuel.

Christmas is God saying yes, life is hard AND we are never alone in it.

Christmas is God saying yes, there is darkness, AND that light will always shine in that darkness and the darkness will never overcome it.

Christmas is God saying yes, we live in a world gone mad. We always have and we probably always will. Yes, AND this morning and every morning we can know that this crazy world will never get the last word. Yes, AND this morning and every morning we can know that God has been, is now and will always be saving us from the worst of ourselves and luring us to a glorious future that is already secured.

Yes, AND this morning and every new morning secure in that hope, we can join the Christmas angels and call out to a world that desperately needs all that Jesus comes to bring to join us as we go into that world singing:

Risen with healing in his wings,
Light and life to all he brings,
Hail the Sun of Righteousness
Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace
Hark the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn king.


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