Sermon preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The First Sunday after Christmas Day – December 29, 2013
In the name of the living, loving, ever present God – Amen.
I was reminded this week of something an old friend of mine once said: “There are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who walk into a room and say, ‘Here I am!’ and there are those who walk into a room and say, ‘There you are!’”
What brought that comment back to mind was an article I read in the Times that included James Franco’s defense of the “Selfie.”
As I type that word – “selfie” – I see that my computer is not up to date – it has a red squiggly line beneath it. Clearly, my old MAC hasn’t heard that the folks responsible for the Oxford Dictionary not only added the word “selfie” to its tome – it declared it to be the “word of the year” having risen in use more that 17,000 % since 2012.
A Selfie is, according to the Oxford dictionary, “A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”
In his defense of selfies, James Franco – actor, director, screenwriter, producer, teacher and Ph.D. Candidate at Yale, to top it off – says, “A well-stocked collection of selfies seems to get attention. And attention seems to be the name of the game when it comes to social networking.
In this age of too much information at a click of a button, the power to attract viewers amid the sea of things to read and watch is power indeed. It’s what the movie studios want for their products, it’s what professional writers want for their work, it’s what newspapers want — hell, it’s what everyone wants: attention.
Attention is power. And if you are someone people are interested in, then the selfie provides something very powerful, from the most privileged perspective possible. … We all have different reasons for posting them, but, in the end, selfies are avatars: Mini-Me’s that we send out to give others a sense of who we are. In our age of social networking, the selfie is the new way to look someone right in the eye and say, “Hello, this is me.”
My first reaction to this piece, like many of my social network buddies, was sadness sprinkled, I must admit, with a little disgust. Is it true that what we really want is attention? Must we all be part of the “Here I am!” group of human beings?
Upon further reflection, the disgust dissipated, as did the sadness. It occurred to me that humankind was not the first to splatter, spread and surprise the world with selfies! Instead of residing in “the cloud” – the entire universe was lit up with God’s glory – glory from the very beginning! Creating a world filled with unending beauty, scattering snowflakes and hoarfrost, engineering DNA and RNA, filling the oceans and streams with teaming life, sculpting and breathing life into creatures who have been graced with the capacity to know and the ability to wonder.
Yes, God seemed to be pretty adept at posting some incredible selfies.
Trouble was, not everyone was hooked up to the Glory-web. People made poor choices and decided to take things into their own hands – taking credit for their own existence and worshiping gods of their own making. And while the glory of God remained, many never saw it. They quit knowing; they even quit wondering.
But God didn’t quit.
The Internet offered me another gem this week. David Anderson, Rector of St. Luke’s in Darien recounted this story on his blog. It is told by the surgeon and writer Richard Seltzer in his book, Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery, about a young woman with a tumor in her cheek. In order to excise the tumor, Seltzer was forced to cut a tiny but important nerve which controls the muscles on one side of her mouth. The woman was scarred for life, her face slightly droopy on one side, her smile crooked. Dr. Seltzer writes of his visit to her hospital room after the surgery:
I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of her facial nerve, the one to the muscles in her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. As a surgeon, I had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh, I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.
Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. “Who are they,” I ask myself, “he with his wry mouth who gaze and touch each other so generously?”
The woman speaks: ”Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.
”Yes,” I say. “It is because the nerve was cut.”
She nods, is silent. But the young man smiles.
“I like it,” he says. “It’s kind of cute.”All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful of my presence, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I’m so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate hers, to show her that their kiss still works.
I remember that the gods appeared in ancient Greece as mortals, and I hold my breath and let the wonder in.
Fr. Anderson concludes, “So God comes to us, accommodates his lips to ours in the form of a human child…..God comes for us, comes in the only way we could receive God-with-us.
Because we humans had forgotten how to relate to the divine glory, God reached out in a new way – the Word – a piece of Divine Glory – became flesh and dwelt among us. This Word was the beginning and the end, responsible for all that is and all that will be. This word, this Christmas kiss of God brought grace and truth, shattering our darkness with eternal light, offering us as new identity as Children of God.
That, my friends, is the Good News of God’s glory, God’s glory translated and accommodated to meet our crooked and limp lips. God comes saying, “There you are!”
So, once again, we are reminded that nothing is either/or. Everything, even God is both/and. The glory of God – displayed and experienced for millennia is a bold, “Here I am!” – a fabulous “selfie!”
The Word made flesh is a universal “There you are!” – an invaluable gift of grace – Jesus, the Christ, the child with outstretched arms and lips that can accommodate the most crooked and droopy of mouths.
“Here I am!” God declares. Open your eyes and see my glory.
“There you are!” God affirms. Lift your heads and taste the sweetness of my Christmas kiss. Amen.