On Faith, Glitter and Angel Wings
"The Light Shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." John 1:5
There is a great gap between what things are and how they ought to be. We experience that gap as absence. Advent is a prayer for the presence of God in the cold winter night of faith.
The humility of God in Jesus Christ is an essential question that marks the boundary of the Christian faith. When the first Christians met Jesus, their lives were made whole by whatever it is we name God, a presence that brought light and fullness into the shared suffering of the life they led. This is the mystery of the Christian faith; God who allows the gap to exist is the God who steps into that absence to endure it with us. We celebrate this in a manger on Christmas and a cross on Good Friday. I confess that I can't make sense of it on most days. But there are moments when I have caught a glimpse of the faith my ancestors bore witness to.
Johnny was a blessing of a child in a church I once knew. Maybe a church we have all known. It was a place where it snowed on Christmas eve, and the family nativity play was a picture of perfection. Kings' crowns were made of construction paper, as they should be. Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh were presented to baby Jesus in gaudy jewelry boxes that could have come from Melania Trump's after the Christmas swap meet. And the angels. I'm old school about this; a Christmas angel shouldn't get her wings unless carved from crisp white poster board and sealed with Elmer's glue and gold glitter. Johnny used piles on his. The choir found glitter in the choir loft well through Good Friday.
Johnny's mother grew up in that church. She struggled with life. Well-liked, but she couldn't seem to find her place or direction. Then she met Jim, much like her, and their love seemed to light the whole world for a time. They married, and Johnny was conceived. It was a much-anticipated birth.
The child was born and soon discovered that he had Down syndrome. Over time, the strain on the young couple was too much. Their marriage failed. Night crept in the window of what had been the light of life.
Johnny and his mother stuck it out there. And the church stuck by them. It was never the same. She was never the same, nor was the church. Johnny was lovable and deeply loved, and he loved loving. But, he was also boisterous and difficult to corral. Almost every Sunday in that fellowship, one could be reminded of the injustice of life. The Christmas plays were indeed never the same. As an angel, Johnny sang loudly and proudly to a different tune. As a shepherd, he entered with kings; as the innkeeper, he caved and let Mary and Joseph have their room.
Now, one can live this reality in two ways—despair and fall into the gap between what is and what ought to be. Or, witness the life shining there with unquenchable fire: love made flesh in the crooked timber of human life. Folks grew to enjoy that church better with Johnny in it. It made more sense. Cardboard, glitter, bathrobes, plastic baby Jesus: the stuff of this world. In and through those humans who wielded them was a light that no nighttime of the soul would overcome or master.
Those folks and that church are long gone now, but the story we tell at Christmas bears their witness. And if today is a dark winter night of your faith, I know no better way to mark these days than to worship together and follow the well-tread path that leads to a cattle feeding trough and a precious child born of the stuff of us. And Watch for glitter. There are always angels in the midst of us.
— Rev. Mark Sturgess, Advent 2002
This reflection was inspired by a seminary colleague's unpublished sermon on witnessing a Christmas Eve service in the presence of a person with paraplegia. Her image, like this reflection, suggests searching for God not outside but within the memory of suffering.
11/30/2022 12:15:57 pm
Wonderful perspective and story to show Faith through difficulties and imperfections. Thank you.
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Rev. Mark F. Sturgess