Many years ago, on a hot summer’s day, I went to Cavendish Beach. And if you turn west when you get to the beach from the parking lot you will come to a small brook that cuts through the beach.
This particular day the brook was big, bigger than usual. I stopped and look at the stream cutting through the sand, making a deep gorge, with cliffs on the sides, maybe a foot tall. At the same moment, I noticed a small boy, maybe ten years old, and armed with only a small plastic bucket and shovel; and a great deal of will – began the mammoth task of trying to dam up the torrent.
He tossed a bucket of sand into the stream and it was quickly washed away. Then he tried a rock and it rolled away a bit, and wouldn’t stay in place. A bigger rock: just the thing. He started scouring the area for rocks, driftwood and shells, anything that might stay in place, even if pared with something else, to hold back the water.
I knew that this was not a job for one boy, he needed help. I dropped my stuff and began collecting things to use in the construction of the dam. Before long: a few other boys and men joined in. It’s no exaggeration to report that eventually there were at least twenty of us working away our vacation, or our day off, sweating in the sun, trying to dam the river. Perhaps one of you was there too.
Hardly a word was spoken by anyone. Twenty men working: with a single purpose. Perhaps an occasional, “thanks,” as a stick or rock was put in its place. There might have been the odd word from those amongst us who fancied themselves as engineers. Mostly, the work went on in silence.
I don’t know how long we worked. It might have been an hour; it might have been the whole afternoon. All I know for sure is that at some point we all stepped away, in unison, knowing that we had accomplished a task that seemed impossible at the start. The mighty Mississippi had been dammed. The rush of this grand flood had been plugged. The river, as they say, ran dry.
The army of designers, engineers and laborers stood at ease, rightfully pleased with their collective accomplishment. There might have been a few hi-fives, and this was in the days when a few “low-fives” would have been more common. I think I heard someone say, “Miller-time!”
Within seconds of our celebration, the first trickle of water came over the dam and the sand underneath began giving way. I doubt it was more than a minute before the dam had been completely breached. It was there that I learned the most valuable lesson of my life: Nothing, and I mean nothing, can separate us from the love of God.
Nothing we can do will stop God’s love. Nothing we can do will dam God’s love. God will always break through, and this is the message that is imparted to Mary as she learns that she is to give birth to the great Emmanuel, God with us. This is the message that Joseph learns in a dream, that he is to parent and protect the Christ, the anointed one of God. This is the message of Good News given by angels to shepherds on a mountain. This is the message that draws Magi, wise people from the nations, to come and worship Jesus, the Son of God.
The Incarnation simply means, God taking on human flesh. But it really means God breaking through what seems like impossible dams or barriers. The Incarnation is like a mighty river that we think we can dam up, but God breaks through anyway.
Another image from scripture that I really like describes Jesus as the Light of the World – a Light that no darkness can extinguish. No matter how big the darkness seems, no matter how big the dam is; God, in the person of Jesus Christ, breaks through. He shines like a beacon calling everyone into a loving relationship with God, our Creator.
If you’ve ever seen an element in an oven burnout, it’s a brilliant bright light; almost bright enough to hurt the eyes, but as quickly as it starts it fizzles out, out to nothing. The light that is Jesus Christ is a light that cannot be extinguished. Even if stuffed out, put to death, it is a light that will rise again.
Next week, there will no doubt be a story in the news: the first New Year’s Day baby, in the country, or in a city, or whatever. But take note of the time of birth, there will be at least one story about a child born within seconds of mid-night. It has to be because there are just so many babies born.
Now I’m not saying that childbirth isn’t special, and wonderful, and simply one of the best things going. All I’m saying is that they are quite common-place, so common-place that I’m fairly sure it’s happened to each one of us. Maybe tomorrow, on Christmas Day, some family will have had some sort of harrowing trip to the hospital and the story makes the news, a miracle baby on Christmas Day.
The fact is that birth happens – it’s beautiful and wonderful, but it’s not extraordinary. Tonight, we along with people all over the world; join together to celebrate an extra-ordinary birth; the birth of the Incarnation of God; God taking on human flesh, Emmanuel, God with us.
Nothing we do can stop God from finding ways to break through, nothing we do, not even death can stop; can dam-up God’s love. Not even the worst we can throw at him: judging him, beating him, spitting on him, nailing him to a cross, nothing can separate us from God’s love.
God breaks into our lives, through our stone cold hearts and reminds us of God’s love. Now, and this is really what I learned on the beach that day: that love, God’s love, is not ours alone, God’s love is for everyone… everyone. You see, the water in that brook had to make its way to the ocean, twenty strong boys and men couldn’t keep the two separated. Nothing we do can stop God’s love. Nothing separates us from God’s love.
With God there is unity. That night, the night Jesus was born in a manger, God our Creator, took on human flesh and became one of us. Earth and heaven were united. God’s love brings together what was originally meant to be together. There are no more enemies. There is no more: us and them. But in Christ – all of creation can exist as it is truly meant to be, peacefully flowing to God’s unshakeable, unchangeable, always forgiving love. Amen.