"Divine Sparks"
Sermon Preached by Gregory Knox Jones

December 24 2010
Luke 2:1-20


One of the many things I love about Christmas is that the world pauses from its usual warp speed rush and we are given a kinder, more deliberate pace that allows us to savor the blessings of our lives.  We are given a gift of time which allows us to enjoy a delicious feast of food and drink, to be stirred by the riveting words and majestic music of the Messiah, to cherish heartfelt embraces from friends and loved ones, to watch wide-eyed children rip the ribbon and paper off their presents and squeal their delight, to gather with our church family on this extraordinary evening to sing the rousing hymns, to relive the birth of Jesus, to receive the Lord's Supper and to ponder God's call.

"In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered."  That decree forced Joseph and Mary to make the trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem despite the fact that Mary was due to             deliver her first child.  They arrived at an inn just in time.  Mary gave birth to a son, they wrapped him in cloth, and laid him in an improvised cradle.

On a nearby rocky hill, shepherds were watching their flock.  It was a night like any other, until there was an explosion of light in the sky.  A messenger from God appeared to shepherds and frightened them.  Immediately the messenger exclaimed, "Do not be afraid, I bring you great news.  Your Savior has been born in Bethlehem."  Suddenly a multitude of angels appeared, singing, "Glory to God and peace on earth."  The shepherds rushed into the tiny town of Bethlehem, found the babe lying in the manger and then celebrated this quiet, yet world-changing event.

Today, Christians around the globe celebrate the birth of Jesus in numerous ways.  Why all the celebration over the birth of this child?

At Christmas, followers of Christ affirm that Jesus, more than anyone else, reveals the true nature of God.  Moses and the Jewish prophets helped us understand that the Creator of heaven and earth is a just and merciful God.  But Jesus expanded our vision, especially opening our eyes to the depth of God's love.  It is a love that will not remain untouched by suffering.  It is a love that possesses a special affinity for those in need.

Yet, Christmas is still more.  It takes us a step beyond the characteristics of God.  The birth of Jesus affirms that Christianity is an incarnational faith.  That is, God is not a distant deity who creates the world and then retires to a celestial palace.  God is IN our world.  God was present in Jesus, as no other, and Jesus revealed not only the nature of God, but the kind of people we are called to become.

In his teachings, Christ taught that love is the most important thing in the world.  It is the one ingredient we cannot do without if we are to experience joy, hope and peace.  And in his actions, Jesus embodied love and made it clear that there is no higher calling for any of us than to become lovers of God's creation and one another.  Love heals, love inspires, love reconciles and love brings light to the dark corners of our world.

Andrew Mayes, a Course Director at Saint George's College in Jerusalem, says that while working in Jerusalem he has discovered the Jewish idea known as 'repairing the world.'  It originates with a sixteenth century Jewish rabbi, who taught that in the work of creation, God poured divine light into vessels all over the world.  These vessels could not contain the light and they shattered into numerous fragments, trapping sparks of the divine light amidst their shards as they fell to earth.  This rabbi taught that it is the vocation of humanity to release these divine sparks amidst the world's brokenness through prayer and service.

Andrew says this vision of renewal inspires him in three ways.  First, there are elements of divine light all around us, if only we open our eyes and look. Second, God calls on us to work as partners in a divine-human synergy to heal the fragmentation of the world.  And third, small actions, tiny steps of reconciliation, can have far-reaching repercussions and contribute to the restoration of wholeness bit by bit.  And he warns not to discount small actions because they help repair the world.1

Each year at Christmas, cartoonist Charles Schulz delivered a Christmas message through his Peanuts comic strip.  One year, Lucy said, "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown.  Since it's this time of the season, I think we ought to bury past differences and try to be kind."  Charlie Brown responds, "Why does it just have to be 'this time of the season?'  Why can't it be all year long?"  Lucy looks at him warily and says, "What are you, some kind of fanatic?"

God wants us to become fanatics who spread Christ-like love and work for peace 365 days a year.  God wants us to build bridges of understanding and hope to overcome the darkness of violence, to overcome the darkness of indifference, to overcome the darkness of injustice, to overcome the darkness of despair.  God wants us to have, not a passive desire for peace, but an active partnership with God that reaches out in love and labors for peace.

Jim Wallis of Sojourners says that Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee, was              recently featured on CNN.  A year and a half ago, the church's pastor, Steve Stone, learned that the Memphis Islamic Center had bought land adjacent to their church.  Rather than pro­test the plans, he put up a large sign that said: "Heartsong Church Welcomes the Memphis Islamic Center to the Neighborhood."  The Muslim leaders were stunned.  They had dared to hope only that their arrival would not ignite an ugly incident.  It had not entered their minds that they might be welcomed.

The Islamic Center's new building is still under construction, so its members used Heartsong Church for Ramadan prayer services this year.  Pastor Stone said the two congregations are planning joint efforts to feed the homeless and tutor local children.

But that's not all.  The repercussions of hospitality spread much further.  Pastor Stone received a call from a group of Muslims in a small town in Kashmir.  They said they had been watching CNN when the segment on Heartsong Church aired.  Afterward, one of the com­munity's leaders said to those who were gathered, "God just spoke to us through this man." Another man went straight to the local Christian church and proceeded to clean it, inside and out.

Stone says he is just trying to love his neighbors, as Jesus instructs him to do.  For their part, the Muslim residents of this small community in Kashmir told him: "We are now try­ing to be good neighbors, too. Tell the members of your congregation we do not hate them, we love them, and for the rest of our lives we are going to take care of that nearby little church."2

It is not an overstatement to say that the future of our planet depends on our acts of hospitality, respect and kindness.  Do your part in releasing the divine sparks that can repair our world and restore it to wholeness.  And do this work, not only during the Christmas season, but throughout the year because our world is desperately in need of fanatics who will share Christ-like love every day.



  1. Andrew Mayes, "Healing the World, Bit By Bit," in Saint George's College Chronicle, Fall 2010.
  2. Jim Wallis, Sojourners, December 2010.