Luke 2:25-35; 39-40
The Blanket of Light and Love
This past week I had the opportunity to be Santa Claus once again and visit most of our children and families at Southminster. What a joy that was for me. I went to see Lucas and Sophia Hernandez-Mullins and they were given the permission by Mark to open the gift bag I had brought to them from the church. When 4-year old Lucas opened his gift, the magic in his eyes was awe-inspiring. He ripped the bag open, looked at all of the goodies but became fixated on the soft blanket that was now his. He kept saying, “I love this blanket. I love this blanket.” He even took the blanket over to his chair in the living room, carefully laid it out and quickly jumped onto it and nestled himself cozily in it—once again saying “I love this blanket”.
Of course, there were also gifts of candy (to many parents’ dismay) and other toys in the gift bag—but for Lucas, the blanket was by far the best thing. He LOVED IT! This got me thinking. Isn’t that the TRUTH about Christmas? The core message—the most important thing in the bag full of goodies—is that we have been given a blanket of warmth and love to inspire all our living and share with others. And yet, how often do we become distracted by meaningless toys and candy.
Restored Broken Dreams
Throughout history, God has sent people to light our path towards spiritual healing and give us blankets for a good life. We call them prophets: by their words and lives they help us follow Jesus. This advent season, we have remembered the modern day prophet Howard Thurman, an African-American author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader.
Thurman talked a lot about light and joy, justice and community. As a young boy he experienced “a profound mystical intuition into the unity of all beings.” as he writes. I love the story that he tells. Thurman was raised in segregated Daytona, Florida. Schools there went only to the seventh grade, so Thurman’s family scraped together the funds to send him to high school in Jacksonville. However, at the train station, Thurman was told he had to pay extra to send his baggage. Buying the ticket had left him destitute; he had no more to ship his trunk. Penniless, the boy sat down on the steps and began to cry.
Then, a stranger—a black man dressed in overalls—walked by and paid the charges. He didn’t introduce himself, and Thurman never learned his name. But when Thurman wrote his autobiography, he dedicated it “to the stranger in the railroad station in Daytona Beach who restored my broken dream sixty-five years ago.” It was this experience that changed his life forever. That stranger became his blanket and made him profoundly aware that he and all of us are beloved children of God.
Individuals Must Ask: What Makes You Come Alive?
Thurman went on to become the first African American to meet and talk with Mahatma Gandhi, the man who led India to independence through nonviolent protests. Like other American prophets—including Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Thomas Merton—Thurman believed that “true social change needed to be grounded on spiritual experience.” God, he felt, intended for us to live in community so that we could heal and be healed—so that we can become the blanket of love and acceptance to people and a world so desperately in need.
So where do we go from here in 21st century Beaverton, Oregon? How can Howard Thurman help us follow Jesus in our lives and time and place? How can we focus on the blanket and not be distracted by the candy and toys? Well, listen to what Prophet Thurman suggests: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” If we can find what makes us come alive, he says, our light and love will last the whole year and more.
Communities Must Ask: Where are we Going and Who Will Go With Us?
And the same is true for communities and our community of faith here at Southminster In creating or building community, the Prophet Thurman suggests we ask two questions: “The first is ‘Where are we going?’ and the second is ‘Who will go with us?’’ Thurman goes on to say, “if we ever get these questions in the wrong order, we are in trouble.”
How often do we skip asking one or both of these questions? And how many times have we asked them in the wrong order? When we stop asking the right questions, Thurman warns, we stray off course, we become bogged down in the wrong battles—we become focused on the wrong items in our bag.
Christmas Is Waiting to be Born In You and Me
Friends, this season of growing darkness — a time when we leave the old year behind and begin a new one—leads us to the return of Christ’s light and love. It is the blanket in our gift bag full of goodies. The blanket reminds us that this is our time to ponder deeds that challenge and love that inspires—it is our time to ask the right questions, to bring light and warmth to the world, to love like we have never loved before, and to be the stranger that restores broken dreams.
I close with another poem from Thurman. It is entitled “Christmas Is Waiting to be Born”:
“Listen to the long stillness:
New life is stirring
New dreams are on the wing
New hopes are being readied:
Humankind is fashioning a new heart
Humankind is forging a new mind
God is at work.
This is the season of Promise”
Moving on from the season of promise, Thurman goes on to say, we move to the time:
“Where refugees seek deliverance that never comes
And the heart consumes itself as if it would live,
Where children age before their time
And life wears down the edges of the mind,
Where the old man sits with mind grown cold,
While bones and sinew, blood and cell, go slowly down to death,
Where fear companions each day’s life,
And Perfect Love seems long delayed.
CHRISTMAS IS WAITING TO BE BORN:
In you, in me, in all humankind.”