“For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37
An unusual, eclectic panel of people.
Two teenagers. A staff worker. An executive director. A Hollywood celebrity.
All sat erect on their bar stools, all poised and willing to discuss things close to their hearts.
“So tell us how community has made your personal challenges bearable,” asked Dionté (Executive Director for UrbanPromise Los Angeles)—the panel facilitator—to our celebrity guest.
Community? Hard to define. Ask 100 people and you’re likely to get 100 definitions. But in this particular moment, the community question implied how relational connections can help us weather the storms of life.
Our actor paused, looked at the audience. “When my wife started bringing me to church, I didn’t like it,” he chuckled. “I was very confrontational, suspicious and wasn’t very friendly.
“But because of the warmness of the congregation who were centered in Jesus,” he continued. “I was, what I might call, loved in.”
And then he volunteered a little historical background about his difficult and challenging childhood.
“I was raised in an environment where I needed to protect myself emotionally,” reflected our guest. “I needed to survive. Much like some of the kids in our programs.
I was veiled and scaled to what love is and what it means to receive love. That’s what community has done for me. I’ve learned to open myself to other people. Probably the best gift I’ve been given.”
Veiled and scaled. Words you might not expect to hear from a successful Hollywood actor—someone known for likable, warmhearted Emmy award-winning roles.
Fortunately Craig T Nelson’s church community didn’t give up on him or exploit his fame. They kept loving him. Kept accepting him back. Wouldn’t let him go. Eventually he let down the “veil”, shed the “scales” of fear and opened his heart to their love. Despite his professional success, Craig received a gift that can’t be purchased, contrived or manufactured. Within the hearts of these faithful churchgoers lived a tenacious, patient, intentional, grace-filled love. And since true love can’t be hoarded, bottled or saved, Craig was blindsided by this patient communal force—and it eventually wore down his defenses. This I find fascinating. It was neither doctrine, nor liturgy, nor great sermons that changed Craig’s life. Love did.
Christmas speaks to love entering history—in the form of a living, breathing human child. Immanuel, the baby’s name. Translated: God with us. And if God is love as the scriptures argue, Love with us might be an equally accurate translation.
But like my friend Craig, love is threatening for those who have been hurt, betrayed, and rejected. Far easier to adorn protective scales than open ourselves to the possible pain of more rejection. Far safer to wear a veil of self assurance, piety, and religiosity than risk the vulnerability of opening ourselves to this love—especially when transmitted through humans who hold the capacity to both hurt and heal.
And as our Immanuel—Love with Us—matures to adulthood, his actions and decisions define what this love actually means: compassion, grace, mercy, forgiveness, generosity, truth, and justice for the broken and downtrodden. It’s this gritty, practical love that challenges, threatens, overwhelms and can heal the “veiled and scaled”.
So Christmas is much more revolutionary than a sentimental moment providing excuses to drink eggnog, watch It’s a Wonderful Life…again, and run up credit card debt.
Christmas celebrates an infusion of divine love into the life stream of our planet. When received and shared with others—everything changes.
“Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife which may at any moment become for us all a time of terror,” wrote Dorothy Day, “I think to myself “What else is the world interested in?” What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships. God is Love.”
Roger Angell, at the age of 93, put it another way. “Getting old is the second biggest surprise of my life. But the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love.”
I’ll close with a third surprise….Love arrived 2000 years ago to teenage parents, in a stable, in Bethlehem as a baby named Jesus, our Immanuel. The impossible now becomes possible. That’s good, hopeful news we can all embrace. That’s a gift worth sharing.
A joyful Christmas—-