A Christmas Charge to the Congregation of First Christian Church in Fort Smith, Arkansas
Before I depart as your Senior Minister, I just want to say:
“I’VE SEEN THE LIGHT!”
And no, that is not why I am leaving!
For two and a half years, I have seen the light of Christmas shining through this church.
I saw the light the first Sunday a transgendered woman walked through these doors, and you welcomed her with open arms. I saw it again you when you showed up to support the LGBTQ community at a rally during Pride Week. I saw it yet again when you voted to be an Open and Affirming Congregation by placing an extravagant statement of welcome in your bylaws.
I saw the light when you collected Christmas gifts for the families of undocumented workers following an ICE raid in Alma. I saw it again when you gathered for a prayer vigil to protest the mistreatment of our southern neighbors at the border.
I saw the light when the first African-American woman was ordained in our church. I saw it again when you showed up at the Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast and parade to stand against racism and for the sacred value of every human being..
I saw the light when you shared a pot-luck meal with members of a Muslim mosque. And I saw it again when you attended a worship service in that mosque to stand in solidarity with them and with Muslims all over the world after the massacre in New Zealand.
I saw the light when you committed yourself to be a Green Chalice Congregation. I saw it yet again when you marched for environmental justice in Little Rock with the Poor People’s campaign.
I saw the light when you enveloped Lori and me with your love during her sickness and surgery. And I saw it again and again and again when you did the same for others.
I saw the light each time you left the sanctuary to praise God in a brew pub with beer and hymns. And I saw it again just a few weeks ago when you sang carols and served cookies and hot cocoa in Creekmore Park.
I saw the light when you stuffed backpacks with food for poor children at the Clearing House, prepared and served meals to the homeless at Hope Campus, served people who are food insecure a sack lunch, and supported the mission of Antioch Youth and Family that no child should go to bed hungry. I saw it again when you gave Christmas gifts through Earthbound Angels, and I saw it yet again when you helped to repair a porch and did everything you could to help someone clean their cluttered home.
I saw the light when you supported the inclusive mission of Ainsley’s Angels, a spark that started right here and then spread like wildfire throughout Arkansas. I saw it again when you removed some pews to make this place of worship more accessible for those with different abilities.
I saw the light when you freely offered Disciples Hall to other groups, expecting nothing in return, when you used the holy space God has given you to bless our community.
But as we have learned, we live in a dark world where the light of Christmas can be painfully bright. The intensity of the light is just too much for some. It is too inclusive, too encompassing. We have also discovered with Jesus that although the Light has come into the world, some people will always love the darkness rather than the Light.
Thus, there is a great temptation to dim the light, to tone it down, or to adjust the light in such a way to make it more pleasing–to soften the light to make it less offensive, less embarrassing. There is a temptation to even hide the light, to put it under a bushel. Then, there’s always the temptation to keep the light to yourself, to conserve it, to protect it, to save it to warm yourselves instead of sharing it to warm others.
But on this Christmas Eve, I want to charge you to resist these temptations, and shine on! Shine on graciously. Shine on generously. Shine on selflessly, courageously and liberally.
And don’t just shine the light. Be the light. Be grace and mercy. Be inclusion and acceptance. Be empathy and kindness. Be justice and peace. Be joy. Be hope. Be love. Be Christmas! Be the enfleshed presence of Christ in this world!
And do not be afraid. Although there will be those who will abandon you, deny you and betray you, if you faithfully shine the light in the darkness, the darkness will never overcome it. Faith will not be dimmed. Hope will not fade. And love will never die.