We Sing the Body Human
Luke 2:1-20 & Isaiah 9:2-7
Christmas Day 2013
St. Paul’s Alexandria
The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales
In the hour of their darkest need, their father prepared for them a gift.
They were three children — 13, 10, and 9 — whose hearts had been broken. In the first week of learning to live without their mother, their father breathed into being a plan.
It would cost more than he could count, but he did not count the expense, and simply proceeded with his design. Months went by, long months of waiting, and one day, there it was.
The children looked up, and down came their gift — delivered by a helicopter that whirled away as swiftly as it had arrived. Enchanted by mystery, they gathered around a sarcophagus, gasping at its jeweled eyes and fingering its golden hieroglyphics. When they pried open the treasure, they found the one thing in the world that would save them.
They found a grandmother.
It was Timothy, the youngest, who twisted the key that set the body to humming and whirring. Agatha, the middle child, took a turn, and then Tom, the eldest. And suddenly, each child remembered the brochures that had dotted their father’s dresser for months, the ones that proclaimed: “I sing the body electric!”
The Electric Grandmother opened her eyes. And the children, who had sat in darkness for too long, saw a great light. “She was born!” Tom would exclaim years later. “She was born!”
* * *
Today we celebrate our Father’s greatest gift — born, born! — in the hour of humanity’s darkest need. There is no comparison, of course, except through the gift of imagination — for a mystery as big as Incarnation cries out for contemplation, not by theory or reason or calculation, but by story.
The poet T.S. Eliot calls the mystery of Incarnation “the hint half guessed, the gift half understood.” So let’s see if a story can give us a hint, bring us closer to halfway understanding.
If you know the story by my favorite science-fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, you know that the grandmother’s coming was just the beginning. You know that months before she was born, she was made-to-order at a company called Fantoccini — Italian for shadow puppets, or maybe dream people. From a far, electronic deep, she was given a good, warm, soft voice. She had to be not so bony that she’d cut the children to the quick, nor so plump that they’d feel sunk in her embrace. Her hands passing the potatoes or brushing fevered brows had to be not marble-cold or oven-hot but something in between. Her hair — well, enough to say that every small detail was chosen to entice, delight, beguile the ones for whom she was made.
And yet. And yet, Agatha, after the initial excitement, pulled back. Agatha ran. Agatha resisted. Agatha refused. Grandmother simply . . . waited, all the while feeding, helping with homework, braiding hair, mending clothes. Grandmother, whose memory safely stored all they said and did, kept on giving love.
“Love!” said the father, his face shadowed as he peered into electronic almost-eyes. “But . . .but woman, you’re not IN there.”
A beat, two beats, then her reply: “No, but you are. Everything YOU, all of you, are is in here. And though the debate may run another hundred thousand years, ‘What is love?’, perhaps we may find that love is the ability of someone to give us back to ourselves,
just a trifle better than we had dared to hope or dream. . . .
“If paying attention is love, I am love.
If knowing is love, I am love.
If helping you not to fall into error and to be good is love, I am love.”
How she convinced even Agatha of that love — and at what cost — is a story Bradbury tells better than I can, and I hope you’ll give yourself the gift of reading “I Sing the Body Electric.”
For now, let it be said that the Electric Grandmother, who came to them in deep darkness, promised to be with them always. And was.
* * *
And so we come to the day we have been waiting for, when Love is born, born!, anew.
Not made-to-order, to our specifications, but
“Of the Father’s love begotten.”
Today, we sing the body human.
Jesus, the babe of Bethlehem — God in human flesh —
came down from heaven
to teach us how to love,
to help us to be human.
“The hint half guessed, the gift half understood” is wholly given,
given despite the cost,
again and again.
He came in humanity’s hour of darkest need,
and, dear God, aren’t we still in that hour?
Though light shines in the darkness and, I firmly believe,
the darkness cannot overcome,
the headlines from Syria and South Sudan and Southeast Washington
remind us that God’s children still need to be saved.
Our participation in saving them will somehow save us, and,
Dear God, WE need to be saved.
So here is the good news of the Christmas gospel.
To us, to YOU, is born this day a SAVIOR.
Pay attention to him, for that is love.
Know him, and know his suffering children, for that is love.
Be good, for you are made for goodness,
Above all, be human, as he taught us to be human.
In the name of Jesus, become the love of God in human flesh — your flesh.
Become the love, the light this dark world needs —
the hint half guessed, the gift half understood.
Be the Incarnation, this Christmas day and every day. Amen.