In a Perfect World: Grace

Rev. Leah A. Grundset

December 26, 2010

In a Perfect World: Grace
Luke 2:8-20

Barcelona was surprisingly cold in November. Granted, I had only been there before in the summer, but the wind whipped and my face was bright red as Julie Greene and I strolled through the beautiful, Catalonian streets a month ago. We had already traveled to Paris and Rome. Barcelona was the last stop on our European adventure.

For a quick, 48 hours, we wandered around the city- caring less about what we actually saw and instead soaking in the atmosphere, enjoying lots of cafe con leche and me practicing my Spanish with that rusty, yet familiar castellano accent that makes every word sound like you had a little too much sangria at lunch.

On one of the particularly blustery days, we left the hotel, jumped on the metro and headed toward Sagrada Familia. It is the famous church that Antoni Gaudi designed and it rose up from the street and looked well, a little gaudy. In fact, our word in english-gaudy, comes from his last name. I’m sure many of you know the story of Sagrada Familia.

Construction was first begun on the church of the holy family in 1882 and it is still a work in progress. It has eight massive towers, which rise out of the nave and into the sky, far above much of Barcelona. The city of Barcelona estimates work on Sagrada Familia will be finished in 2025.

As I walked inside, I was overwhelmed by the light that spilled through the beautiful stained glass windows. Last time I was there in 2005, the nave was still under construction and scaffolding covered the windows. This time, three days before we arrived, the Pope came to Barcelona to dedicated the church as a basilica of Barcelona.

I guess the Pope felt ok leaving Rome since I was there to hold down the fort at the Vatican.

Julie Greene and I took the elevator to the top of the spires, Julie running out onto the bridge to see the city and me a bit more timid, knees shaking and ever so carefully placing one foot in front of the other until I was in the middle of the bridge. You realize exactly how much you love the ground when you are that far in the air with just a few feet of concrete holding you up. Please, see a picture.
I survived the towers and we finished our grand tour inside and decided to venture back outside into the cold. We still had one facade to take in– the nativity facade. We walked once again through the beautifully lit nave, outside to a scene, which I can hardly describe for you today. Inside a bunch of little pockets rests our Christmas story from Luke 2.

Time and the elements have aged Sagrada Familia’s facade, but the story was still there. Above the entrance to the basilica were Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus who was being heralded by the angels, the shepherds and the magi from Matthew’s gospel. The scene tells the story of Anna and Simeon meeting the baby Jesus, Elizabeth and Zechariah singing to Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist and the holy family’s flight to Egypt.

I stood there for quite awhile, my neck cramping as I stared upward at the story that I know by heart. We all know the story- maybe we know it too well. I know it in the cadence of my pastor growing up- Mr. Revis. The way he read the passage from Luke reverberates through my eyears whenever anyone reads it. But something was different this time. I wasn’t hearing the story—I was looking at it, right in front of me. The baby Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us was right there being lifted high for all to see as a sign of grace in their midst. Both in Barcelona and in the world.
The world so desperately needs to be reminded of God-with-us in our midst. Sagrada Familia’s facade tells the story so beautifully, you must only stand there for a few moments and rest your eyes on the magnificent scene unfolding.

While standing there, you can almost feel heaven and earth meet- a thin place where grace abounds. There seemed to be room there…room for grace to exist in between the manger, the shepherds and the angels singing “Glory to God in the highest…”

This morning, we all woke up in a post-Christmas haze. Mine was heavily induced by the cooking of two grandmothers. Yours might be from a sugar overload.

This morning, unlike any other morning, unlike any other Sunday we have experienced in years, this morning–we gather for worship as people living in the shadow of the manger. We aren’t looking for it in the darkness anymore. This morning in special because it is like we are waking up to the newness of the story all over again.  Did yesterday really happen? Did we really welcome Emmanuel into our lives as we always do this time of year?

Some of us sat around tables yesterday with loved ones and it was easy to make room for grace. Some of us sat alone and it was more difficult to see God in our midst. Some of us went and sat around those tables with our friends and family with hearts full of pain, sitting in the midst of broken relationships and deep family tension.
God with us was there though, in those moments yesterday when we celebrated incarnation. God took on flesh and moved into the neighborhood yesterday as God does every day and every moments through all of us.  There was room for God to be there yesterday and room for God to be here today. There was room for grace to abound and speak fresh words.

There is such a rush to get to Christmas day that often, the day after can be a let down. Maybe everything today is still a little sparkly. The lights still twinkle. We are singing Christmas carols now…we just celebrated yesterday. But it feels different, doesn’t it?

Remember during Advent? We were watching for the light in the darkness. We joined together in hope, we practiced peace, we celebrated joy and offered love. And now, all has come. Kyle Childress says that at Christmas, “we run up against the Incarnation.” I love that language because that’s exactly what we’re doing.

The season is whole and we have run right up against incarnation. God-among-us and God-with-us is here. Let’s not run away from that this morning. I’m ready to linger in that reality, run up on the incarnation and practice these 12 days of Christmas, all the while looking for grace.

I mentioned we are living in the shadow of the manger. Don’t you wonder what that day after Christmas looked like for the shepherds, Mary and Joseph? Perhaps, Katie and Ryan and Ed and Amy might have some deep insight on the first night with a newborn. In a perfect world, the baby would sleep through the night, the dog would not bark at every noise and there would be ample time to welcome family and friends into the home.
We are just like the original gang today. Living in the shadow of this great miracle. How does it change us? This shadow of the manger is spilling over us even in the midst of the great light, which abounds. The shadow of grace and incarnation changes everything.

We do not always get to live in the shadow of the manger. Babies bring joy and hope. So this week, live in the shadow of the manger. Look for the pockets of grace that are everywhere. For so long we were waiting for Emmanuel to come and now he did and now…what do we do?

These 12 days of Christmas offer us the opportunity to make room for grace. Read this story from Luke every day. Make room for it. Listen to the words in a different way. Every day, see what story it tells you for that day. Give thanks for the one who came and will come again.

And look for the shadow of the manger all around you as it spills over this world with grace that only comes from Emmanuel. May it be so.



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