Christ, the Light of the World

May you experience the presence of Christ, the Light of the World, everywhere, in everyone, so that hope will abound in your life and the world you live in. There is no corner of the planet where Christ is not. And may you share the light of Christ that is within you with everyone you meet, wherever you are, everyday.

Wilfredo Juan Baez

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Making Space for God Immanuel: God with Us

Making Space for God Immanuel:  God with Us
Rev. Dr. Wilfredo Baez
Christmas Eve 2014 (2)

Immanuel, “Our God is with us, and if God is with us, who can stand against us.  Our God is with us Immanuel.”

Here we are celebrating Xmas like it has been celebrated since the 4th Century, celebrating the birth Jesus. We celebrate the birth of Jesus because of what God did in Jesus, who Jesus is and what Jesus did.  And these three things are summed up in one word, “Emmanuel.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     The name “Emmanuel” means God with us.  The name Jesus means “God saves.”  God is with us to save us.  What is God with us to save us from?   God is with us to save us from a world of greed, violence and delusion.  And God is with us to save us to a world of sharing, collaboration and awareness. God is with us to help us overcome darkness; to overcome alienation from God, ourselves and others and live in connection with God, ourselves and others.  God is with us to help us live in love, peace and reconciliation with one another; to let go of hurtful pasts that promise a difficult future and provide the means of healing. 

God is with us to show us just how capable we are of overcoming the wounds of the past and living free of the limitations of fear. God is with us to show us that we can be holier or whole and complete, free of guilt for not measuring up to our standard and learning to believe in a better future.  God is with us to establish heaven on earth

Michael Card, who composed the song I sang earlier in the service, “Immanuel,” first heard the word “Immanuel” during a Christmas sermon shortly after he was married.  He and his wife were fearful that their marriage would end in divorce like fifty percent of all marriages or just limp along like so many more.  But the idea of “Immanuel,”  “God with them” gave them hope.  They were not alone.  God was with them 24/7.

Immanuel, God is with us in the midst of danger and the drudgery of everyday life.  Immanuel, God with us weeps with us and wipes dry every tear.  Immanuel, God with us laughs with us and brings us great joy.  Immanuel, God with us isn’t looking down from a safe distance.  God is right with us and calls us to be accountable to our own most cherished values, even the ones we believe we cannot uphold.  And God raises us out of the ordinary and mundane to extraordinary lives with purpose and drive.

Immanuel, God is present, as Christ, in your life and mine.  We see God when we look into a baby’s face.  Bits & pieces remind you yourself & family – what joy! 
We experience God in the midst of an argument with spouses, children, parents and friends where a disturbing presence convicts us of failing to be to each other all we want be.  What pain!  And we experience God is in the midst of our daily routines – brushing teeth, eating, cleaning house, driving, working, rushing from one event and responsibility to another.  If we are awake enough and pay attention.

Immanuel, God with us stops us in our tracks and makes us take notice.  He lets us know he’s there, wanting know why we living way we are and wanting us to live like we really want to.  Then we realize there no ordinary moments for Christians . . . for human beings.  Every moment is a precious opportunity to grow that we may never get back.

 Imagine being Jesus for moment.  One moment he is at the side of God, the Father-Mother of us all; the next he is sleeping in a cattle trough.  One moment he is hearing the praise of angels; the next he is suffering the taunts and threats of men.  It is no small wonder Jesus prayed to his Father in Gethsemane, “Take away this cup of poison.” He just wanted go home.

It’s a story we don’t want to believe, the price of being Immanuel, God with us; living with us, suffering with us, dying for us, doing the right thing for all of our sake – what kind of God is this, sacrificing for us rather than we sacrificing to him!  With a God like this who and what can stand against us!  What great love!  God is with us and with God everything is possible!

This is the promise of Immanuel, God with us:  I will never leave you.  I will never forget you.  I will never forsake you.  Immanuel, God with us is the promise of Christmas.

Making Space for God

Making Space for God
Rev. Dr. Wilfredo J. Báez
Christmas Eve 2014

As we prepared for Christmas what was our most important decoration:  The Christmas Tree, the Poinsettias, the mistletoe, the lights, the ornaments, the stockings, Santa Claus  . . . I almost forgot to ask “the stable, the manger, the angels, the shepherds, the three kings of orient are and the baby?  Who to send a card or letter to this Christmas?  Who to provide a present?

It’s evident tonight that you made some room in your lives for Jesus . . . This time of year is so busy and so hectic . . . But God is important to you . . . and God is present in you and in your lives.

But how do we make room for God, not just on Christmas Eve, but everyday . . .
People here, in this church, and elsewhere in this community are making room of God in their lives tomorrow morning, serving dinners for thousands of people in the Tri-city area . . . We make room for God when we make room for God’s people.

We have places to be and things to do . . . people to entertain . . . and yet we are putting God first . . . We are saying God is present here in Binghamton . . . and we are putting God’s people first  . . . We are saying that all of God’s people are important to us.  After all we are all part of God’s family.  We are working hard to serve up some food and Christmas cheer for people who need and appreciate it.

We  are following the Great Commandments of Jesus Christ.  The Great Commandments are to love God with all your heart, mind and will and to love your neighbor as yourself.  At times Jesus nuances this – your brother and sister, one another and your enemy.
When Mary and Joseph showed up in Bethlehem there was no room in the inns there?  Have you ever experienced that, “No room in the Inn”; “No room for you?”  Many people turned them away.  But someone finally made room for them.

I remember taking my son to a basketball camp at Hamilton College.  He got to stay in the camp.  I decided to go camping but there was a nasty rain. It was late and I had not put my tent up yet.  I stopped by a motel nearby the college.  They were out of rooms.  I dreaded going back out into the rain.  The innkeeper said, “We have a little room that we set aside for visiting relatives.  It’s not quite up to code but you’re welcome to use it.  I was so relieved.  For some reason, when I returned the following three years, he put me up in the very same room!”

Is there room in your life to love God, your neighbor as yourself, your brother and sister, your parent, your child, one another . . .  your enemy?  Not just on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but every-day.

How many times have we sent people away, in a sense saying to them, “There’s no room for you here?”  Think about who we have said that there is no room in our lives before?  Why is there no room?  Who is there no room for?  Who can you make room for?  How can you make room for them?  When will you make room for them?  Can you imagine making more room in your heart and mind for people that have been consciously and unconsciously excluded?

I imagine that the innkeeper that allowed Joseph and Mary to use the stable had some concerns about letting out that space.  Perhaps they had to go back and clean up a little to make it presentable, reasonable and safe to stay in.  Perhaps there was some risk in letting them stay there.  After all, it was a place for animals and not for people.  The Bethlehem code enforcers might have something to say.  But when they made this space available to Joseph and Mary, they were making space for Jesus and they were making space for God and they didn’t even know it.  They were opening up their minds, their hearts, their doors, their lives and space.

Turning on the Lights

What’s it like when you’re in a dark room for a long time and someone turns on the lights.  It’s hard to see isn’t it?  You cover your eyes or close them or complain so they turn out the lights.  We like to be ready when the lights get turned on.

Have any of you learned anything new?  Was it easy?  Sometimes a first lesson can be easy but then second and later lessons can get hard.  You might even want to quit.

I took a drum class.  The teacher taught me a pattern.  I learned the pattern well.  Then she taught me a new pattern.   The old pattern got in the way of learning the new one.  I had to get used to playing the new pattern. In the past I dropped out of drum classes because it was hard to learn the new pattern.  But I have committed myself now to learn the new patterns despite the old ones.  Some day I’m going to know a lot of patterns and be able to play them at all!

Jesus came into the world with a new teaching.  It was a new understanding.  It shed light where there was darkness.  The people weren’t ready for it.  They were satisfied with their old understanding even though their old understanding wasn’t working so well anymore.  Some people were ready and they applied this new understanding to their life.  Some weren’t so ready.  They needed more preparation.  So they rejected Jesus and his teachings.   It takes time to integrate new teachings.  But that’s how we learn.

Big Love Christmas letter

A Blessed Christmas,

Each year we reflect on this story of the birth of Jesus.  It is obviously an important story for us.  Some people ask, “What does the story mean for us today?  What does Christmas mean for us today?  What does it mean for the world?”

For me, the question has turned out to be, “What has or what is God birthing in me?  How is Christ being birthed in me?  How is God, how is Chris, incarnating in me?  What of God, of Christ is manifesting in me and becoming flesh in my life?  And what am I, in collaboration with God, capable of accomplishing or achieving in my life.   Many things can be birthed in us – forgiveness, love, peace, justice, compassion, generosity, kindness, patience, joy, forbearance and not just in general, but particular – for particular situations, conditions and persons – for ourselves, for others and for the world.

I believe that God is building “Big Love” in my life.  God is creating me a capacity for “Big Love.”  I am learning to believe that with God in me that I am capable of manifesting that “Big Love” in my attitude, thinking, speech and actions.  How big is this “Big Love?”  How big is God?   Remember when as young children our parents would tell us how much they loved us?  They would stretch out their arms as far as they could and their smiles would stretch out just as far and say “This much!”  And when they asked us how much we loved them, we would stretch out our arms, smile and say back “This much!”  

I think that the point of the crucifixion story, as gory as it is, is to show us how much God loves us, stretching out his arms on the cross even in response to our own complicacy in his death, Jesus saying “This much!”  What greater love is that than when one lays down one’s life for his friends?  We have to remember that the cross is a symbol of much more than a symbol of death.  It is a symbol of God, as the second person of the Trinity, deciding to enter into the world of creation and be with us in every aspect of life: birth, learning, growing, sickness, healing, loss, recovery, struggle, achievement, suffering, joy, conflict, reconciliation, trials, vindication, death, resurrection and ascension.  God is with us in our life journey.

“Big Love” can be quite intimidating, even overwhelming.  How in the world do we love like God loves; how Jesus loves?  Certainly, with God’s help!  We are more capable than we believe.  But once we receive God’s “Big Love” and incorporate it into our lives to the extent that we can we realize that we are more capable than we think.  Our belief in ourselves increases to approximate God’s “Big Love” and we incorporate that love and act on that love more and more.  As God and God’s Love is bigger than we can imagine, there’s always more to incorporate and more to share.  But that’s the journey: growing in our capacity for “Big Love.”

My Christmas and New Year’s blessing to you is this:  “May God’s Big Love grow in you and in God’s Big Love!”  Merry Christmas ,Happy New Year and “Big Love” to you and yours!”   
In the Big Love of Christ,
+Pastor Will Baez +