Christmas Eve Homily December 24th, 2017 by Rev. Jill Cowie
A baby came for the world, a baby whose birth invites us to be trusting, compassionate justice seeking, compassionate beings generating warmth and bringing light to our world, this year, and every year. What a blessing. Tonight, let your heart rejoice, and be glad.I begin with a story, a true story, and a wonderful story about a mother, Susie Stogard, who didn’t expect her 4th pregnancy. At nineteen weeks into her pregnancy Suzie’s doctor calls and tells her that her baby will be born with Down syndrome and with heart defects. When Susie gets the news she decides to go for a walk, so she and her husband put their kids in a jumbo stroller and after only a few moments, Susie knows exactly what she wants to do, She says to her husband: “I want to get something for our baby-to-be, to cement that we are going to keep her and everything is going to be ok.”
After shopping they stop for groceries, and when they go inside Suzie encounters Sydney, someone they have seen countless times before. Susie says, “this is first time I really notice her, and I know she has Down syndrome because I recognize the traits. This moment I really see Sydney is a moment I will always remember.” On her next grocery run, Susie nervously approaches Sydney for the first time, she wants a glimpse of what her daughters life will look Sydney says “Hi” and then “have a great day.”
Eventually they introduce themselves. Sydney tells her “I love my job as a cashier, I love telling my customers to have a great day.” Susie keeps talking to her and discovers they are both big fans of musical theatre and Disney, especially the movie frozen; Sydney starts to sing, “Let it go, let it go.” From then on every time Susie gets groceries she pays in Sydney’s line even if it is the longest line in the store. She finds out that Sydney takes the bus to work, and has regular parties with friends. Susie says, “it was those little interactions that I really clung to and in the car, I’d be crying tears of reassurance and gratitude”.
Carly, Susie’s daughter was born 4 months later with Down syndrome and heart defects. After a year of hospitalizations Carly is finally well enough to go to the grocery store, a long anticipated moment for Suzie When Sydney saw Carly, she just said “Oh she has Down syndrome” and instantly wraps her arms around Carly saying “I know she has a big heart like I do.” Sydney and Carly share essential baby words in sign language, like “milk”, and “more” than Sydney pauses, looks at Carly and says (signing) I…Love…You. Susie tears up, “that Sydney would say I love you to Carly the first time they meet, it was like saying “hey we are in this together”. It was something so small…and beautiful.”
Over the next year Sydney joins the family in karaoke sings and body celebrations. Suzie is grateful for this new friendship that she knows will be life long. “You know,” Suzie says, “I think I was kind of in a bubble before we got the diagnosis. I would’ve considered myself a totally kind, warm loving person but I would never have taken the time to interact with people with a disability. Just man…there were a lot of times I could have been a lot kinder. Getting to know Sydney opened a whole world that I was missing out on, and it’s a very beautiful one.”
A baby came for the world, a baby whose birth invites us to be trusting, justice seeking, compassionate beings generating warmth and bringing our light the world. Mother Theresa told us often to look for Jesus in his many disguises, for when we do our worlds always become more beautiful. This proves true in this next story as well, a story about how Ruthie and Bill bring light into the life of Laura Bernini. Three years ago at Christmas time, Laura was living with her boyfriend whom she had been dating for 5 years, and she knew something was big on the horizon. Everyone one was saying, “when are you going to get married, how many kids do you two want, wouldn’t this be a good place for a wedding.” On December 22, her boyfriend said “we got to talk,” and he sat down with her and said, “that things would be best for both of us, if we broke up.” He was done…done; nothing she could say could change his mind. That night they pack up his things.
On Christmas day with her family she tries to hide how heartbroken she is…she is trying to prove she is a self-contained island of a person. But things are about to get a lot worse. Over the next few months she has a hard time getting out of bed. She is scared about bills so she turns down her heat, she is scared no one will love again; she is scared …she isn’t herself anymore. She cries a lot, the dishes build up, 2-3 feet high in stagnant water. They aren’t the only thing piling up, the snow piled up nearly to her windows. She feels trapped and alone. She wants someone to say, “Are you ok?” In what she remembers feeling like a weak moment, she posts a picture of her snow bound house on FB, and asks “hey does anyone have a snow blower I can borrow?”
That’s when Ruthie enters the story. She watched the FaceBook post awhile, and no one responded…nobody, and she says to herself “there is no way this girl can do this herself.” She had met Laura once at the lens crafters store where Laura works. Ruth convinces Laura to let her and her husband Bill make the 40 minute drive to Laura house while she is at work. Ruth goes inside to plug in the snow blower, and she sees the pile of dishes and she washes them, and she notices the floors so she vacuums and mops. When Laura gets home that night she cant believe her eyes, she is crying, “someone cares” When Laura sees Ruthie again at lens crafter, she gives her a big hug and she says “you will never know what it means that you were so good to me.” Laura says the day that Ruthie and Bill stepped up was a jump-start for her, a day she knew she wasn’t alone. “Now I know I can ask for help, and it doesn’t mean I am weak,” says Laura. “Ruth and Bill helped me feel strong again.” Of course Ruthie and Bill brush it off, for them it nothing, natural. “If there is something you can do,” says Ruth, “to help someone or do something you just don’t let it pass because you can’t go back, you can never go back and try to help her on that day.”
Laura says “maybe it was nothing, but here I am talking about it, and I think about it everyday. Ruthie had no idea what I was going through, but she acted anyways, she just needed to know that her dishes were dirty and all she had to do pick up the soap. She makes me want to be someone that picks up the soap.” Brother David Stendl-Rast tells us “Any place, even Facebook, can be sacred ground, for it can become a place of deep and lasting connection. “What makes it sacred,” says David, “is not what, but how we read the ground, how our listening heart looks through things to their meaning, and generates the threads of compassion that tie us to other human beings.” May we be grateful this Christmas for the stranger who helps us see the truth of who we are, and for all the times when we remember how to read the ground and see it as sacred; To see Jesus in every face, to sign (sing this) I love you in any language, even when it means picking up the soap. Mostly may we be the beloved empty-handed recipients of a gracious Universe, and a loving God, who instead of leaving us to our own devices, gave us a baby who came for the world. Let us make of our hearts a big light, and rejoice and be glad.