Every year, Time magazine chooses a Person of the Year. They take a look back at the events that have unfolded over the course of the year – the good and the bad, and gauge the person who has had the greatest impact on the world and on our lives throughout the year. Persons of the year in the past have been nearly every president back through John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, the astronauts who walked on the moon, the Queen of England, Mark Zuckerburg, Malala the young girl from Pakistan who fought for the rights of young girls seeking education, even Adolf Hitler.
They are often world leaders, people who sparked a movement, or people whose discoveries or inventions have impacted the world forever.
They are not typically faith leaders – In fact, only three times in nearly 85 years has the person on the cover of TIME been a faith leader…
But this year’s Person of the Year – was Pope Francis.
Since the white smoke rose in the air from the Vatican this past Spring, Pope Francis has risen to a kind of rock star status all over the world.
He is the first of his kind – the first to be from outside of Europe and the first to choose the name Francis.
He has been an unconventional pope – he traded in the Mercedes for the Ford Focus. He rejected the expensive papal shoes for some modest and sturdy shoes.
And he has made the powerful and significant statement – “Who am I to judge?”
When faced with people and issues that have polarized and divided the church in the past.
He is an unconventional pope. But those things have not been the things that have captured the hearts of billions of people across the globe – Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
It’s pictures like this.
Pope Francis – blessing a disfigured man
Pope Francis – called up a woman who he found was single and refused to get an abortion – and told her he would baptize her son.
While many people have welcomed this new pope, a small number have feared the changes that he brings.
One man wrote a blog about how Pope Francis was the anti-christ.
When that same man fell terribly ill,
He called the man – to tell him that he was praying for his healing.
Something about these images and stories strikes to a deep place within us. When we see this,
This Pope keeps showing up in unexpected places – This is not what Pope’s are supposed to do – and this is not where they are supposed to be.
What is so compelling about this pope – is that as the most powerful and influential leader in the Christian faith – he consistently chooses – over and over again – to meet people right where they are - in the midst of people’s pain – and to show them God’s extravagant grace and love. And his behavior is shocking and scandalous at the same time that it is beautiful and compassionate. He steps away from the places of comfort and privilege. He doesn’t stand at a distance. He draws near. He is present. He reaches out his hand. He offers a blessing. He offers a kiss.
And when we see this – something in us KNOWS - YES – that is what God’s love is all about. That is what JESUS would have done.
This is the love and grace of God with SKIN on – coming to us – where we most need it – in our place of pain, struggle and darkness.
At Christmas time – we love to have these very peaceful nativity scenes in our homes...
But the place where Jesus entered into – it was a story that involved pain and struggle.
The whole story itself is set during a census – a time where a mass of people would have been forced to be gathered and counted. It was a way to continue exercising power and authority – and a way to collect taxes… keeping people economically in their place.
The shepherds themselves who are the stars of this story – were actually a people despised and lowly on the outskirts of town. Unable to find other work – they were at the margins.
And then there is Mary and Joseph themselves.
First of all they are traveling.
While Mary is 8-9 months pregnant.
I don’t know if any of you have spent a lot of time around women when they are 9 months pregnant.
But – simply sitting in a chair for an hour – can be pretty uncomfortable.
on a donkey – while she is 9 months pregnant.
And I can only imagine the debate they may have had about who was supposed to have made the reservation at the inn.
I think about how hard it must have been for both of them – knowing each other for probably a short time. Probably being rejected by their families. Facing something so big and so unknown – Having really only each other –
It had to have been overwhelming, terrifying – what a way to start their relationship. What a difficult and challenging place to be in.
Into this drama of struggle and pain
In this distant corner of the world.
into the filth and the dirt.
Into a difficult moment –
In what was probably an imperfect night –
THIS is where God chooses to enter.
Mary and Joseph and the shepherds didn’t ask for this gift.
But it is given just the same.
The gift of God’s grace. In the midst of their pain and struggle.
Emmanuel – God with us.
God steps away from the holy and sacred place in heaven. God comes near. To be present with us. To reach out a hand and to give us a blessing.
It is shocking
And it is beautiful.
It has been a painful season for many of us at Summit this year…
Our pain has different causes and different expressions –
But the pain and the hurt are there
and many days we can be pretty good at putting on a smile…
– I can see it on your faces and you can probably see it on mine.
And there’s this temptation to try to pull it together because it’s Christmas. To try and make it appear as if all is in order.
But I’m thankful that at the heart of the story of Christmas – there is this invitation that says we don’t have to pretend.
We don’t have to pull it together because it’s Christmas. We don’t have to put on a good show.
Because the Christ that came into the world at Christmas meets us right where we are. In our pain, in our heartache, in our disfigurement, in our struggle,
God with us.
And the task that we have – is the one that Joseph and Mary and the shepherds had – simply to receive it.
In the place of our deepest hurt and pain and struggle –
Is the gift that we didn’t ask for
But the one that we most need.
The gift of God’s grace – and God’s presence with us.
As we wait to hear the test results, as we experience the tension of strained relationships, as we decide whether we should stay or leave our job, as we wrestle with physical pain and discomfort,
The grace is for all of us.
It is for those of us who are in a place of joy and a place of anger. It is for the young and the old. This grace is for the faithful members of this community and I’m thankful that this grace is also for your imperfect pastor.
We didn’t earn it. But here it is – the gift of God’s grace – God’s presence with us.
All we need to do is receive it.
Because the more we truly understand the gift – the easier it is to share it with others. To recognize that all of us are a little broken inside and all of us could use just a little bit of grace.
So this Christmas.
Right in the place where you most need it – and right in the place that I most need it – the Christ waits to come – to be with us.
To send us Grace.