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Christmas I Lessons and Carols with Holy Eucharist - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
CHRISTMAS I  Lessons & Carols with Holy Eucharist
The Garden of Eden  (Genesis 3: 8-15; 20-22);
The Glory of Zion  (Isaiah 60: 1-6, 20)
The Birth of Jesus the Messiah  (Matthew 1:18-23)
An Angel Visits the Shepherds  (Luke 2:8-20)
The Visit of the Wise Men  (Matthew 2: 1-12)   
The Word Incarnate  (John 1:1-18)  
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, January 1, 2017
The Rev. Janet Campbell
A Reflection:
What do these stories and proclamations and songs
of human hope and folly and disobedience,
a woman, a man and a newborn baby,
of angels, and shepherds,
wise men from the East,
a fearful and dangerous King . . .
and a Word made flesh . . .
What do these stories and proclamations and songs
we’ve just heard and sung
have to do with “real” life
in the 21st century?
Here’s a 21st century story to add to them:
Toward end of last week,
after a very busy time
with services and sermons,
          I was looking forward to
          some quiet time at home . . .
But as it turned out:
Thursday was a morning
          of the teeth-set-on-edge whining and racket
                    of chain saws and wood chippers
          as two giant trees next to the neighboring house
                   were cut down . . .
followed in the afternoon
by the persistent hypnotic throbbing
          of a gasoline wood splitter . . .
. . . which continued all day Friday.
From my window overlooking that backyard,
          I could see an enormous pile of firewood
          was growing.
Now, on Friday,
I was trying to write
          a short, wise-and-encouraging something
                    for the Tacoma News Tribune,
          which had asked local religious leaders
                   to offer some words of hope for 2017.
          Deadline, that afternoon.

How to provide something
          with some depth and solidity . . .
          and how to do that with a wood splitter
                   throbbing away next door
                    vibrating my windows
                   and my brain?
But I finished it, finally,
and was looking forward
to a restful space on Saturday
in which I could write
          this reflection.
But, at 8 on Saturday morning,
while sitting with my coffee enjoying the peace,
people were suddenlyu talking right outside my window,
          and a strange intermittent clattering noise began . . .
An older and a younger man
          stacking the firewood
          in the fenced enclosure between our houses,
          on my side of the enclosure . . .
and a woman with a wheelbarrow
          going back and forth across their backyard
          bringing wood from the pile of split wood
          to dump it at the stack they were making
                   on my side of the enclosure . . .
That did it!
Out I went,
hair on fire!
The encounter did not begin well.
“Why are you stacking the wood on my side?”
“Well, nobody uses this space.”
“You might at least have asked me?”
“We didn’t think it would be a problem.”
In the course of what eventually
became a conversation
rather than an encounter
I learned:
Joe and Tracy’s names.
And they learned mine.
I learned that they live temporarily in Florida
for work
and return occasionally
to spend time with their son Josh
who lives in their house.
That they had only a couple of days
to finish this wood project
before heading back.

I learned
that the roots of the trees
had been tearing up their patio.
That the rental house I live in,
in my quaint little Lakewood neighborhood
used to be a house of very sketchy doings,
visited both by the police
and armed IRS agents!
“No worries there,” I said,
“I’m an Episcopal priest,
I work at a church in Tacoma . . .”
“And I hope to be a good neighbor.”
(Not that I was acting
like either at the moment).
Apologies offered and accepted,
inner and outer peace eventually restored,
a relationship tenuously established,
I returned to my work
and they to theirs . . .

Sitting in my chair,
ready to write . . .
an idea came . . .
I should go out there
and really apologize
for my “hair on fire” behavior.
And the best apology
would be to
help them with all that wood . . .
. . . a huge job for only three people.
“But I need time to write . . .”
“But I should help them
deal with all that wood.
That’s what a good neighbor does.”
(I could write the reflection
in the afternoon, I thought,
after the Huskies game.)

So I put on some work clothes
and went over with my wheelbarrow.
And apologized for my
un-priestly behavior.
“We were just glad,”
said Joe with a smile,
“that you’re not a crack-head.”
For the next couple of hours
we worked, and worked hard;
I got to know Tracy and Joe and Josh,
and they me,
and we moved and stacked
a whole lot of wood . . .
not all of it,
but a whole lot of it.
And as Tracy and I trundled
back and forth,
loading and reloading our wheelbarrows,
I realized
that what I was really doing
was the incarnation of the thing
I had tried to write
for the Tacoma News Tribune.
And that what I was doing
would be today’s reflection.

An aside:
Although I had asked
the Tacoma News Tribune
not to cut or edit my piece without my permission,
they left out the first paragraph of what I wrote –
the carefully-crafted paragraph
that provided the foundation for the rest
of what I had to say . . .
the part that grounded hope and encouragement
in God’s loving kindness,
the shared values of a faith community
and people of good will everywhere . . .
before I went on to did print
that was about
being gentle and kind in the world,
speaking carefully to each other
listening carefully to one another,
reaching across differences and disagreement . . .
Will I write them
a stinging email?
No, but I may,
in thanking them for printing my piece
among the others,
gently mention
my disappointment . . .

Tracy and Joe will be back
in August for their daughter’s wedding,
I have a sense
that we’re in many ways
very different people,
but we’re neighbors
and we’ll be glad to see each other again.
In a small neighborhood,
in a small way,
God’s dream for the world
takes a small step forward . . .
We heard ancient stories
of God’s desire for God’s creation,
of God’s persistent hope for God’s people
          despite our
          fear of one another,
          failure to see and hear one another
          across backyards
                   and across nations . . .
God’s persistent hope
despite even the terrible violence
          we inflict on one another.

Our own stories
are part of the continuum of the story
of the Creation
God is writing . . .
I went out toward my neighbors
the first time
full of self-righteousness . . .
I went back
because of the story
of Jesus Christ,
and the power of that story
for our world.
I went back
to add something worthy
of that story.