Christmas Message, 2018

One of the things I have always dearly loved about our East Dallas neighborhood is how it’s a beautiful and somewhat chaotic mix of all kinds of people living together in one place. It’s folks from all walks of life *choosing* to live next to those who are quite different from them.

One minute, you’ll spy a Lexus cruise down the block, followed by a homeless woman, pushing her shopping cart. One second, there’s a old Latino man pushing a “Helados” cart, followed by a young mother pushing a baby stroller. We have new families moving in all the time…even into houses down the block where once there were drive-by shootings. (no joke).

People of all ages, races, sexual orientations, and economics live all crammed into these few little blocks, in the shadow of downtown Dallas.

A few blocks from there, there are million dollars mansions.
Once upon a time, the police found a dead body in our alley behind our house.

I know that’s stark.

But there’s something ALIVE within that starkness. There is something very beautiful , and very holy. I tell friends that it reminds me of the Christmas story.

The Christmas story is about INCARNATION.

God come to earth, to live among us. God born in a stable. In a backward land, in a backward time, to a couple of nobody-parents.

Speaking of stark and horrifying, the most shocking description I have ever heard of Christ’s incarnation comes from one line written by Frederick Buechner. He once called Christmas,

“Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed.”

That is both horrifying, and the holy heart of it all, isn’t it?
The Word become flesh. God and humanity connected together.

God came in the form of a small human child, to show how vulnerability, weakness and frailty are not just the attributes of human beings. They are also the attributes of God.

This world crushes the vulnerable, the weak, and the frail…over and over and over. But we are called to stand up for these things, anyway. And to USE our very vulnerability to do something beautiful for the world.

Christ’s incarnation is a reminder that there is no place, there is no person, there are no groups of people, who are ever fully beyond God’s grace.

As I like to say, Christmas destroys the idea that any PLACE is “God-forsaken.”
…Or any PERSON.
…Or any THING.

There is no meaning to the words “God forsaken.”

As Jesus himself says in Matthew 25, when we love the least, the lost, and the forgotten, we don’t just “sort of” love God. We LITERALLY love and serve God…because God is incarnate in those places.

(The parable of the Last Judgement is really a Christmas story…)

This world, and every single person in it, is touched and grace and kissed with the presence of God. All things have the possibility of being holy things. All people have God’s holiness.

But! To see it, to embrace it, to understand it fully the way God wants us to, we’ve got to push it to the extremes. We’ve got to understand it in its fullness.

God live in a part of ALL human beings…

The teacher, and the terrorist…
The pastor, and the prostitute…
The Sunday Schooler, and the drug dealer…

All. Of. Them.
NO PERSON is ever “God-forsaken,” whoever they are, or whatever they have done.

By the way, that also goes also for the two most polarizing labels in our world today: the “Deplorables” and the “Illegals.”

There is NO SUCH THING as a person who is “deplorable,” and there is no such thing as human beings who is “illegal.”

In labeling anyone in this way, we not only dehumanize them, but we also de-SACRALIZE them too.

That’s actually the worst part of these kinds of labels. Because they not only make people seem less than human, but they also tear away at the sacred nature of all human beings too.

By the way, as I have said before, the worst thing Secretary Clinton said was not just that some people are “deplorable,” but that they are, and I quote her now, “irredeemable.”

See, this is the desacralization I am talking about! I continue to be surprised that nobody picked up on that.

Or, maybe they did.

Maybe that’s why some folks have *embraced* the monicker “deplorable.” Yes, they tend to use it in jest. But it’s also sad, too.

They are not “deplorable” to God.
They are God-kissed like every other human person.

And, those who we carelessly and thoughtlessly call “Illegals?”
They are not, in their personhood “illegal.”
No human being is.
They too are God-kissed like every other human being.

We probably ought to remember that before he was two Jesus was both a migrant and a refugee, and in both cases pushed into this status by the power and might of the Empire.

Back to the little “Hood” where we live for a minute…

When I was cleaning out my study earlier this week, I found this note, apparently tucked away for years in a dusty box. It’s from a man named “Johnny,” who used to come by our house “back in the day…”

Johnny, and his girlfriend, Marilyn, were homeless. They moved in and out of shelters. I would guess they probably had trouble with drugs.

They once told me Marilyn was pregnant. It was around Christmas. I was a sucker. We gave them lots of money over the years that they always promised to repay, and almost never did.

I had not recalled that they left their belongings on our porch, but apparently they did. I don’t know what happened to them. We moved. We lost touch. I hadn’t thought of them in years.

I feel confident now that Johnny was a con man and a hustler.

But he was also a child of God too. He had the divine spark in them.

The homeless always are.

I hope you have the gift of being around people who are *different* from you. I hope you don’t live behind a wall this Christmas; either a physical or spiritual one.

During this next year, I hope you get the Christmas gift of hanging out with the wealthy and the homeless. Because it can change you to live this way, and to be reminded of how God is present in all things.

As I said, I’m pretty sure Johnny and Marlyn hustled us. (I learned more about them later from a friend who worked with the homeless. Yep. We were hustled…)

And if you are going to love God’s children —all of them— in the incarnational way that Jesus calls us to, then you are gonna get hustled. You are going to get played. You will be taken advantage of. People will break your heart, people will be ungrateful, time and time again. You will wonder why you even try.

Love them, anyway.
Serve them, anyway.
See God in them, anyway.

It’s not up to you to “fix” people, even within your own family. That’s up to God to do.

But love them. See the God in them, even when they don’t see God in themselves.
And, by the way, see the God in yourself too.

We are both human and holy.
We are both earthly and heavenly.
We are both sinner and saint.

Because we are human beings graced and kissed with the love of God. That’s the true Good News of the incarnation of Jesus.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of Kessler Park UMC United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. Previously, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas for seventeen years. Eric loves to write on topics of spirituality, social justice, music/art and politics. The entries on this blog reflect that diversity of interests. His passion for social justice goes beyond mere words. He’s been arrested at the White House, defending immigrants and “The Dreamers,” and he’s officiated at same sex weddings in his churches, in defiance of what some believe is Methodist teaching. Eric is an avid blogger and published author, and 2017 recipient of the prestigeous Kuchling Humanitarian Award from Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner. (Human Rights Campaign) Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He’s a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named “best judge” by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County, and is currently the longest service district judge in that district. She was re-elected for a fourth term in 2018. They have the world’s best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. Find links to Eric’s music-related websites, at the top of this site’s navigation menu.

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