Universal and Particular

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on December 24, 2016)


Most of us who grew up in the United States probably had an image of Jesus’ birth that was something like this…


or maybe this…


It’s important to be clear to say that Jesus didn’t glow as he laid in the manger…that’s not what it means that Jesus is the Light of the World! Jesus also was not white. He was born to a particular time and place, to Palestine in the 1st century, a Middle Eastern Jewish baby born into a world of color.


Our faith hinges on this unique, miraculous act of God!

God went “all in” for us and with us, becoming a human being like us. This happened in this world, this world which is bound by time and culture and place. For the eternal, all-encompassing God to join with humanity, for that to happen in this world, it had to be defined by a time and a people and a culture and a place.

It really did happen! Jesus was born as an outcast with the shadow of illegitimacy over him, to people who were defeated and oppressed by an occupying foreign government. The unbound, universal God became particular and located, with a color and a language and a smell and a people. It is good for us to look at this picture, and remember that most of us with our color and language and smell and people would be outsiders in this scene.

But something beautifully miraculous happened in this cosmic act of love!

As particular and as specifically located as this was, there was never any doubt God was doing this for us all. When the angels lit up the sky to sing and shout his birth, peace was announced for the WHOLE earth. When Simeon blessed baby Jesus in the temple, he said: “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of ALL nations; a light for revelation to the Gentiles.”

Magi arrived to honor him as King, Magi who lived so far away it may have taken them two years to travel all the way to find Jesus. This is good news of great joy for ALL the people! In this sense, none of us are outsiders. None of us are outside God’s act of drawing near, of God taking on human flesh.

Jesus did look something like this picture…maybe not with the cheesy costumes, but with this color skin on him and around him. Yet this cosmic act of love by our Creator God to join humanity is something people around the world see as a connection with THEM. It isn’t just Western culture that remakes baby Jesus into our own image. There’s something so powerful about God joining our human world that we all can’t help but feel like Jesus came to our people and looked like us.

We can make our way south from Palestine, through Congo…


and Uganda.


People there see Jesus as their own, too. There’s a wrong way to do this of course, to rip Jesus out of what truly was his Middle Eastern home and claim him as our own, erasing what was actually true.

But there’s a healthy way to do this: never forgetting that Jesus actually lived as a first century Jew, but realizing that it was news of “great joy for all people”…realizing that when God became human, there was a connection forged with us all.

And so you can head east…to India…


to Thailand…


to China…


to Korea.


You can cross the water to Japan…


to the Philippines…


to Australia.


You can leap the vast Pacific and see Jesus in Bolivian garb…


as if he came to Guatemala…


or to the Crow Nation in Native North America.


And while none of that is true in the literal sense, because Jesus was a first century Jew…the actual Jesus who walked Palestinian soil is truly “a light for revelation” to all us outsiders. God truly became one of us. God’s coming to a particular time and place and yet being the savior for us all reminds us of our common, equal humanity before God.

All these beautiful imaginations of the Holy Family remind us that God came to us all!

It truly is a great joy, joy to all the world! Tonight, we say thank you for the gift of Jesus. We say yes to God with our minds and hearts. Let’s continue our thanks and our worship by singing together.

Joy to the World, Hark the Herald

We’re coming to the main point of these “candlelight” Christmas Eve services.

This is my last year getting to lead this service, something I’ve missed only once since 2002. I was remembering that first Christmas Eve service in 2002-I was 34, 5 months into a job that was over my head. We also had a baby who was five and a half months old, so we were sleep deprived and trying to come to grips with life and work.

After the last Christmas Eve service, I was talking to someone up there in the balcony. I wish I could remember who it was. Anyway, he made me realize that many of you were still trying to come to grips with me in this role, too. He said something like, “I wasn’t really convinced you could pull this lead pastor thing off; I’ve been watching all fall. But when you came out here tonight with the sweater and everything went ok, I knew we were all going to make it!”

If only I’d known five months sooner! It just takes the sweater!

I bring that up tonight for one reason only: someone else is going to wear the sweater next year, and it’s going to be just fine for everybody. Because you and I both know that’s a great metaphor: being a pastor is first and foremost about what you put on. Are you covered with the calling and the empowerment of God’s Spirit? That’s what matters, and that’s from God.

The church isn’t a pastor. It’s a community of Spirit-empowered people who help each other gather around Jesus who is our center. Thanks be to God!

Just a few reminders before we share the light from these advent candles with each other.

Even these little flames are dangerous, so please be careful of papers and clothing and hair around you, not to set them on fire. It’s easier to pass the flame by having the lit candle straight up and down and tipping the unlit candle over the lit one.

Use the shield to keep the hot wax from burning your hand, and please do your best to keep it from dripping on the floor or the pews.

These words are ones I’ve been sharing on this night for many years.

May this act of lighting candles bring honor to Jesus, who on a silent night long ago entered our world and our frame of reference so that we would not be alone in the dark.

May our caring for the light of these candles remind us of the need to pay attention to what God is doing in our lives each and every day of the year.

May the ease with which we share the candle light with our neighbors remind us that Jesus lives to be shared with everyone!

And, may the light that will soon illuminate this entire room remind us that however dark it seems in our world, however dark it seems in our lives, there is NO darkness great enough to overcome God’s supreme and ultimate light, Jesus Christ.

2 thoughts on “Universal and Particular

  1. Thank you, as always, for sharing your messages more widely through this blog. I hope that whatever else this new year brings, that you continue to write and teach because it is a gift the world needs.


  2. So appreciate reading this message and appreciate this blog! Best wishes in your next venture but hopeful you will continue to share your thoughts and inspiration.


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