“Soul of the Whole”
by Rev. Don Ludwig, Dec. 24, 2019 – 11:00 p.m.
Ralph Waldo Emerson – “Within Every Person Is The Soul Of The Whole; The Wise Silence; The Universal Beauty”
Five days ago, I experience a loss that was heart-wrenching. Many might think it is trivial, but for me it is real. Almost every day over the last few years, I have gone to a place where people became my family. A place where everyone knows my name. I know each of them too and have heard about their stories of rejection and addiction and financial insecurities.
But now, the place is no longer. What I am referring to is the 7-11 story that is near my home – closed its door last Thursday. Now before you pass judgment, hear me out. I don’t drink coffee, but I do drink Diet Pepsi — and I would go there once or twice a day to get my caffeine fix. They would often give a free refill. But truth be told, it wasn’t about the free refills — it was something much deeper that drew me to this place — it was the authenticity of people who worked there — all from a lower soc-economic class than myself — reminiscent of my family and upbringing. It was comforting to enter their world daily — to listen to their stories.
One of the stories that I will never forget was the story of a young woman giving birth in her car, a hatchback, in the parking lot of 7-11, cold, alone, scared. I don’t remember if the story was true or not. I don’t remember if the birth brought joy to the mother or if she remained to the end cold, alone, and scared. What I remember is feeling like I live in a boring world. I live in an upper-middle-class neighborhood with professional jobs, a Prius and a min-van carting the kids around — I am always warm and snug, my home and church are merrily decorated for the holidays, trees lit up, candles burning, strains of cherished Christmas carols filling my ears, hot cocoa to drink following worship, surrounded by my family.
God Breaks into our World
But when I heard this story from one of my 7-11 friends, I suddenly realized that, though we tell the story of Jesus’ birth in church, God breaks into the world not just at church but in the parking lot of 7-11. And just like that, I yearned to be in the parking lot of that 7-11 with the young woman giving birth—not just because I didn’t want her to be alone but also because I didn’t want to be alone either. To be so snug and warm, merry and bright felt contrary to the good news of great joy of Jesus’ birth.
You see, on that first Christmas, the angels did not descend upon the Temple in Jerusalem, among the religious leaders of the day, or to Emperor Augustus or governor Quirinius. Celestial beings did not even sing God’s praise over the manger and the holy family. Instead, the angels proclaimed the good news of great joy of Jesus’ birth to shepherds. Because of their ritual uncleanliness and lack of Sabbath observance due to their work, they likely could not step foot inside their local synagogues—at least not without encountering scorn. These are the men to whom God sent the angels to proclaim good news of great joy. Shepherds and apparently nobody else. I don’t think God was discriminating against the religious leaders or callous toward people of privilege. I think God chose the shepherds because they needed good news of great joy the most, and maybe they were the most ready to hear it too.
News of Great Joy
When we’re snug and warm, merry and bright, we may feel insulated from our need for good news of great joy. But when we are cold, alone, and scared, we yearn to hear good news of great joy. We can’t wait for the angels to show up and proclaim the sweetest of all messages: Jesus Christ is born! When was the last time I heard good news of great joy?
- On Sunday night, when the youth and families went out caroling to the homes of members and friends who struggle to get out because of medical limitations. We went to Sharon Chambers home — someone who has been estranged from her spiritual friends for years — when we gathered in front of her door as it was raining and she joined to sing with us – offering us a smile of joy and grace.
- One week ago when Amanda and I took the youth downtown to serve lunches to those experiencing homelessness, when folks shared what is hard about Christmas: not being able to see your kids, not being able to buy presents for others, family not wanting to see you.
- Two weeks ago when 320 faculty and adjunct faculty voted to go on strike if a contract is not negotiated — hearing dozens of stories of adjunct faculty who are barely getting by — one person sleeping in his car — due to low wages.
- Last Sunday at the college and alumni Christmas party when we talked about the next steps in our lives and all the unknowns involved in those decisions.
- This past month as I’ve talked with friends and so many of you who are going through difficult times.
It almost makes me laugh, the times and places I have heard good news of great joy…because they were all times and places when I have encountered my own or someone else’s vulnerability, when I have felt cold, alone, and scared or when someone else has. That’s when I’ve heard good news of great joy.
So if today/tonight you are wondering where you might find great joy, the Christmas story reveals that we find it not in power, not in wealth, not in popularity or certainty. Good news of great joy came to vulnerable people who were ready to hear it. In the present moment, whether that is filled with an abundance of loving family or bitter conflict between family, health, and strength or aches and pains or even more serious medical concerns, hope and joy or confusion and overwhelming sadness — in the present moment, in the real quandaries of this life, we hear the good news of great joy.
News of love, deep, abiding love that has come to dwell with us, in Jesus Christ. Perhaps this is what Ralph Waldo Emerson was saying — in moments like this — in moments of vulnerability –in moments of joy and sadness — in the real world at 7-11 and in our homes of comfort — all of us — within every person is “The Soul Of The Whole; The Wise Silence; The Universal Beauty” comes to us.