Wednesday, December 24, 2008
There is an ancient story about the richest man in town. Although his house was next to the church, he spent every Sunday sleeping through the worship service. One morning he awoke early, just in time to hear, through the open window, some verses of scripture where God instructs the children of Israel to place twelve loaves of bread on the holy table.
The man, in his half awake bewildered state, believed that God had spoken to him directly, instructing him to place twelve loaves of bread on the holy table, the altar in the church. The man felt somewhat honored at the thought that God needed him. But, given that he was wealthy enough to do anything, he also felt somewhat foolish that all God wanted was bread. That did not seem very important. Nonetheless the man got up and made twelve loaves of bread.
Later, the man entered the church with his bundle of bread and wondered how he could possibly leave it without being seen. Finally the room was empty and he was able to place the bread on the table, as he did so he said, “Thank you, God for guiding me in your desire. Pleasing you, God, fills me with delight.” And then the wealthy man left.
No sooner had the wealthy man gone than the poorest man in town came into the church and knelt in a pew to pray. All alone he poured out his heart and told God how he had nothing, not even enough food to feed his family for the week. Then the man saw the twelve loaves of bread on the altar and exclaimed, “It’s a miracle! Blessed are you, O God, who answers prayers.” Then he collected the bread and ran home to share it with his family and neighbors.
Minutes later the rich man returned, curious to know what God had done with the bread. Slowly he climbed the stairs to the holy table where he saw that the bread was gone. “Oh my God,” he whispered, “You really ate the loaves! I thought you were just kidding. This is wonderful. You can bet that next week I will bring twelve more loaves, with raisins in them!”
The following week the rich man returned with twelve loaves of bread, with raisins. He placed them on the holy table and left. Shortly there after the poor man returned and once again began his litany of woes. Then, again, he saw the bread on the holy table and felt that his prayers had been answered.
And so began a weekly ritual that lasted twenty years. The rich man baked twelve loaves of bread and placed them, once a week, on the holy table. And once a week the poor man came, said a prayer, and found the bread. It became such a routine that neither man gave it much thought.
Then one day the priest, detained in the sanctuary longer than usual, witnessed this amazing and odd ritual. First she saw the richest man in town place on the holy table twelve loaves of bread. Then she saw the poorest man in town come and take those loaves of bread.
The priest summoned both men to come and meet her. Then the priest questioned the men about their actions. After hearing the story she told them that it is wrong to give God the characteristics of human beings – God does not have a body like ours and God does not eat!
The men, feeling ashamed vowed to never to this again. But the priest said, “Each of you look at your hands. Yours,” she said to the rich man, “Are the hands of God giving food to the poor. And yours,” she said to the poor man, “are the hands of God receiving gifts from the rich. In this way, God is present in your lives. Go and continue baking and continue taking. Your hands are the hands of God.”
Our scripture stories remind us, over and over, that God comes to humans and call us to act. God acts in and through the lives of humanity. God acted through Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel, and from these ancient people God builds a nation of people who listen and follow God’s desire. Later, as we hear in Luke, God called and acted through Mary and Joseph. God calls them to bear forth into this world, the very life of God. The mystery of this night/day, of Christmas, of the birth of God into human flesh, of the Incarnation, is made manifest in the reality of God choosing to act in and through human life. As Episcopalians we center our faith on this, on the incarnation, for it is the birth that then makes everything else possible. It is the birth that shows us how to live as faithful people. It is the birth that eventually points us to the brokenness in human life, to all the ways we reject God’s love. It is the birth that leads to the death that leads to the new life again – and the assurance that God’s love is given over and over, given to us exactly as we are, in all our brokenness. Given to us that we might do the same to others.
On this night/day we celebrate the gift of love that God has given the world, the gift of Christ Jesus, the love of God poured out for all. God comes to us as the Christ, as a human being, who changes the world through the grace and power of love. This love of God is both a gift to us and a calling. As Christians we are called, through baptism, to be the Body of Christ, which means we are called to continue bringing forth God’s love. Give us this day our daily bread, we pray. I am the bread of life, Jesus tells us. The bread that Christ gives us is the food of love, nourishing our hearts. Fed by the love of God in Christ we are called to heal the sick, called to care for the poor, called to reconcile the broken- hearted. Come, let us make bread together, let us become the food of love that will heal this broken world. Let us be Christ’s hands and heart in the world.