December 24, 2016 / BORN OF CREATIVITY / Pastor Sara Wolbrecht / Luke 2; John 1:1-5, 14
Alright, I have a question for you: what is your favorite Christmas movie? Or your short list of three? Now, a quick minute and find someone sitting near you who you did not arrive with, and find out their favorite Christmas movie. And repeat if necessary, to be sure that everyone gets a chance to share…
Anyone find someone with the same favorite? I have the entirety of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation memorized. I wanted us to get in touch with some of those other stories that we love about Christmas, those movies, and we’ll come back to Christmas movies in a few minutes.
But first I want to jump around a little bit in the Christmas story, as well as to a few other places in scripture. Are you ready to jump around with me? Can you keep up? Haven’t had too many eggnogs? I’m looking at you, Tim… Ok.
We have just heard from Luke’s perspective, yet I want us to go to one of the other biographies of Jesus, John. John tells of Jesus’ birth not with the same play-by-play that Luke does, but with more poetry and metaphor and layers of meaning. Let’s jump to John…
So do you know how John’s gospel begins? The first three words? In the beginning… When else do we hear those three words? In the beginning! The beginning of Bible, the very first sentence of the Bible is: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1 which goes on to tell of the first and then second narratives of creation.
And so John, writing of Jesus’ birth, by using these same three words brilliantly connects for us the creation of all things, with what is now happening in Jesus’ birth. John knew this would hook his readers and call creation to mind for his readers – then and now.
So why does he do that? Let’s make that jump for a moment back to Genesis 1. In Genesis 1, we find ourselves in the moment when God creates something out of nothing. God begins by creating light out of darkness and finishes by breathing life into a human being. Everything in-between is nothing less than extraordinary.
But have you stopped to notice before, that because this is how the Bible starts, that from the very beginning, Scripture describes God as an artist. Have you ever used that word for God? We use the word “Creator” a lot to describe God, which really means, at the core God is an artist. The nature of God is creativity.
Let’s jump back to John. John, writing of Jesus’ birth, winks at the creation story, pulling it into the present moment, and in doing so names at least two things: first, that God’s creative work continues in this moment of the Messiah showing up on earth. The incarnation is another movement of creation. John says it this way:
John 1:1-5, 14: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John’s version is a thundering opening, where instead of shepherds, an evil king, or even a manger, God’s radiant hope and grace occupy center stage. John reminds us that God, the artist, continues to create – and we feel a deep sense of love and warmth in God’s creativity. The true light has come into the world, and darkness cannot overcome it. Mmm!
Now jump back to what Dani read for us in Luke’s gospel. The nativity has become so familiar and ordinary to us, but have you noticed: it really is incredibly creative, yes?
And part of how the nativity is so creative, why, is the way in which God takes things and flips them upside-down. Subverts them.
Now let’s jump back to our favorite Christmas movies. The best Christmas movies are subversive, upside-down stories. Think about it – A Christmas Carol. What is that story? Powerful, rich Scrooge brought to his knees. While lowly, poor Bob Kratchet – he gets the joy of Christmas above his circumstances – that’s an upside-down story.
Rudolph! Rudolph. They didn’t let him play reindeer games. Everybody can play reindeer games. But not Rudolph. But then the storm hits and the world needs his particular abnormality. The underdog becomes the hero. That’s an upside-down story.
The Grinch! He stole Christmas! Or he tried to – but he couldn’t because the spirit of Christmas transformed the Grinch’s heart. And the enemy of the story became the guest of honor at the Christmas feast. He even got to carve the roast beast. If you follow Seuss literature.
The point is – Christmas movies are often subversive stories – stories of relentless hope and miracle and joy – which I think flow out of the original Christmas story, the Jesus story. Just look at the upside-down characters God uses in his creative entrance into our world. Let’s jump back into Luke’s gospel again.
To Mary – Mary she was probably 14, maybe. And in this day and age, as we lead up to Christmas, we know that the opinion of a 14yo girl is maybe the most powerful force on the planet now – marketing is bent to the whims of a 14yo girl. But back then? She was invisible. Absolutely invisible. And she’s from Nazareth – Nazareth is a one stop light, one liquor store kind of town – nobody came from Nazareth. The mother of God? That’s a creative, upside-down story.
And shepherds. We think of shepherds like this: But really, they’re more like this: Shepherds were on the fringes of society, shepherding sheep because they couldn’t get a real job in town, not even a paper route. And you would smell a shepherd coming – because they smelled like sheep and poop. So these guys, stinky, nearly-unemployed outcasts are visited by glorious angels and told to go the witness the Messiah’s birth. That’s an upside-down, creative story.
And also upside-down? The baby Jesus. God came to overthrow the abusive powers of Rome, to make way for the Kingdom of God on earth, to become King. Not as Thor or even as a super-solider, ready to storm Herod’s castle in a scene straight out of Game of Thrones. But he came as a baby, who would grow up to show us over and over again that the work of the Messiah, the presence of God here on this earth is the creative, surprising, turning upside-down of all the ways in which things are not how they should be.
So – John writes the words “in the beginning” to remind us that God’s creative work was not limited to the creation, and then God brushed off his hands and said, I’m done. The artist is at work again, turning things upside-down. That’s the first thing John calls up for us – it’s about who God is. And the second thing, is about who we are. The story of creation also says a lot about us. Let’s jump back to Genesis 1. In what image does God make human beings? God creates us in the image of God.
So God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
My friends, do you see it there? It is who we are: each human being, each of us, is uniquely designed to create. John points to Genesis 1 also to remind us that: We are made for creativity. In the image of our creative God. It’s who we are.
But here’s the thing that surprises me. I have been asking people whether they think they are creative, and I wonder that of you – if you could mentally go back in time an hour, before we started this conversation, and from that place let me ask you: do you think you are creative? And if you do, raise your hand. No one I talked to this week would have raised their hands, or only barely. Isn’t that fascinating?
This week I got a haircut, because you know, Christmas, and it was from Addison at the Redmond Gene Juarez. And I asked him: Addison, do you think you are creative? He paused thoughtfully and said something like – ‘Not really. I see people who are really creative and I think I am just too Type A and have too many lists to really be a creative person.’ And he says this, while creating my haircut, literally sculpting my hair, doing things with scissors and a comb and flat iron and mousse that I can never duplicate.
See here’s my question: What is the deal? Addison thinks creativity is for certain folks, in a certain way – and so do most of us, in a way that does not include us. Why do we not think we’re creative?
There is a lot to that response, but I think it is rooted in a shift we all need to make. I heard this shift experienced and articulated by researcher and author Brene Brown. In an interview, she was asked: what do you think of creativity? And her response? “Before the research I’ve done I would have said, ‘Oh that’s cute, that’s fun – I don’t really do a lot of ART because I have a JOB. Take your paint brush or your scrap-booking and have fun – but I gotta get [stuff] done.’ I wonder if this captures it for a lot of us? We think creativity is wrapped up in a certain genre of activity, outside of what we have time for. But hear now the shift. She goes on:
“But now after my research? Creativity is the way I share my soul with the world. And without it I am not ok. And without having access to everyone else’s creativity – we are not ok. I am convinced: the only unique contribution we will make in this world will be born of creativity.” – Brene Brown, on Magic Lessons, with Elizabeth Gilbert
Do you see the shift? The shift is from believing that there are creative people (aaaaaaa) and noncreative people, to believing that there is no such thing as creative people, there are just people who use their creativity and people who don’t.
My friends, John tells of the birth of Jesus to remind su that we are made to make a unique contribution in this world and it is absolutely born in the creativity of God whose image is in us
And here’s why this matters. Let me ask you this: How do you think America is doing right now? How about 2016? Yeah, not the greatest year for the ol’ US of A. Good things happened – that are often get overlooked. Babies were born. Marriages began. The Sounders won the MLS! Good things happened. But it has been overshadowed by a contentious, difficult political season, by the continual, heart-breaking stories of brown and black people being treated differently than white people, and there is a dark cloud hanging over our country, as we fear that funding will be cut to crucial social service agencies in our country. As we fear for the well-being, basic rights and even and survival of refugees, our Muslim neighbors, and the LGBTQ community – just to name a few.
Friends, these are some of the darkest times our country has seen in recent history. Anyone with me? Yeah – so you know what we need to do? We need to turn the story upside-down. We need to show up – with all the creativity we have, in all the places we have influence.
The only unique contribution we will make in this world will be born of creativity. And it is is time to let that Light of Christ and creativity shine into the darkness, because this Light, our God who is with us, this Light will never be overcome.
If you’re new to Salt House, we always try to make the experience of being here in worship a practical one – so let’s lean into this shift together.
It begins by simply redefining creativity (or really, defining it by what it actually is). From the dictionary: Creativity: the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination. Notice: is there any mention of a paintbrush? Or songwriting? Or poetry? No. Creativity is innovation. New territory and perspective and possibility. Imagination. We all have imagination. This definition, opens us to seeing the creative potential of ourselves and everyone – naming how we all have creative input to offer the world.
So with this in mind, this is the question for all of us to answer tonight:
In light of Jesus, our Immanuel, and the reminder of who I am as created in the image of an artist: where, and with who, do I want to show up with creativity in 2017? What story do I want to turn upside-down?
Big questions, yes? To answer this, I recommend two things, first, I recommend picking one story, one relationship, one project, one aspect of work, one place you volunteer, one thing you want to show up in with creativity. Choosing to just firehose creativity over your life is not going to work. Be specific. And as you answer this, the second thing I recommend is that you look for places of darkness. Start there. Whether our own darkness, or that of another person or family, or that of wider neighborhoods or a response in light of the political climate. Start in places where creativity is desperately needed.
As examples, I think of people here at Salt House I admire who are already doing this.
I think of Sean, who on his precious days off, teaches citizenship class to immigrants in Federal Way. Talk about using his creativity for light in the darkness.
I think of Tim who is the interim director of a bible camp in Hoquium. And how he brings he background of youth ministry and love of Star Wars into how he impacts the lives of young people who show up for a week of transformation and to experience the life of Jesus.
I think of Levi and Kaylee who are bringing their creativity to start a community garden, a food forest here on our property. Gathering a team next month, to bring the neighborhood together, to teach all of us how to take better care of our bodies and our soil, to grow food for folks in need.
I think of Nancy who since we opened our doors here at Salt House, has embraced our community meals, making sure meals together happen twice a month, to embody God’s again abundance and light.
I think of Dani who created this painting. If you’re new tonight, just so you know, it’s not that we’re super into astrology, but this is a painting that began as a blank canvas on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. And for the four Sundays of Advent, Dani painted this, live, during our sermons as part of our Advent series on wonder. Which frankly made the sermons so much better. So thank you Dani. Because her creativity opened up another dimension of wonder –how God was creatively speaking in our time together.
I think of the creative ways we have said yes to God together for the sake of folks beyond these walls. A year ago we said yes to letting our unfinished basement become a day center for families experiencing homelessness – and now the New Bethlehem Day Center has been open in that space for two months, serving an average of 30 people a day. Though we are a small, growing community without a lot of resources, we had a basement – talk about a creative use of resources for the Kingdom of God.
And we have just said another creative turning-everything-upside-down yes – this time to selling part of our property to the City of Kirkland to become a 24-hour overnight shelter for families and women experiencing homelessness. We closed the vote this week, and to bring folks up to date, it is a yes: 50 total yeses, and 4 nos. And the great good news is that we have heard back from the architect that we can in sell the back, northwest corner of the property. We still will move through an approval process with our parent congregation, Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, but the exciting news is that we are moving forward, co-creating with God to help source a solution for the urgent need to reach families and women experiencing homelessness on the Eastside, and I couldn’t be prouder. Through us God is flipping the story upside-down.
So my friends - in light of Jesus, our Immanuel, and the reminder of who you are as created in the image of an artist: where – and with who – do you want to show up with creativity in 2017? What story do you want to turn upside-down? What is one thing?
I invite you to continue to ask this question – defining what is one commitment you want to make, where you can show up with creativity and be met with our God who is with us – and we’ll do something with your idea in just a few minutes. So do settle on one thing.
And additionally, there is so much more to explore in what it means that we are created to be creative and partner with God, and this January on Sunday mornings, we’ll be diving into more of what that looks like, particularly what it looks like when we show up together with our creativity in community. We’re calling our January and February series: Force of Nature. Because it is a force when people unite with their creativity, and it is in our nature in every sense, we are made and wired for this. A Force of Nature. We won’t have all the answers but we’ll explore the beautiful landscape of how we live this one wild and precious life we have when partnered with our Emmanuel, this Jesus, who is our God with us always. And we’ll also, each week, reveal the meaning behind each of the constellations Dani chose for our mural. I mean, why a panda bear? I don’t know – you’ll have to come find out.
As we find ourselves at the manger tonight, the great good news for all people, is the invitation into the creativity we’re made for. Jesus arrived as a baby, who would grow up to show us over and over again that the work of the Messiah, the presence of God here on this earth is the creative, surprising, turning upside-down of all the ways in which things are not how they should be. And he hands this work off to us. And it begins tonight, by turning our stories upside down. What will God do in you this year? What will you do with God? May it be for all us, born of creativity, of truth and grace. Amen.