The ache, the need, to connect is at the heart of our psychic and cosmic existence; it is a process with encouragements and relapses but the Incarnation keeps us strong and endows us with courage and hope.
Below the sermon audio is basically the sermon text…
Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI
Christmas Day 2017
The Reverend Alan Neale
In E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End, Margaret Schleger says “Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect”. A literary critic, Anne Cheever comments, “These two words, ‘Only Connect’ are perhaps Forster’s most famous”.
The Feast of the Nativity is about connection, or in more authentic Anglican theology-speak “reconnection”.
And look what do we see here? Three congregations that devoutly, maybe even resolutely, plow their own furrow for most of the year on Christmas Day… connect.
And look what do we see at tables throughout the land? Families, well some families, that have with dogged determination kept apart for 364 days… on this day, after the stress of travel and buying and expectations… connect.
Sadly for some this is the time of the year when the promise “only connect” is fraught with tension, disappointment and general angst. As we are bombarded with happy families with abundance of gifts, food and general yule-tide festivity so there are those for whom there is an enormous disconnect… financially, emotionally. I think of two couples who yearn to have children but, as yet, without success.
Of course humankind cannot bear too much reality; and so poignancy becomes the material for comic writers and urbane wits.
The film “Four Christmases” was described by one reviewer as “one of the most joyless Christmas movies ever” but in 2008 it grossed slightly over $100 million domestically and $115.5 million worldwide – so much for reviews! One line repeated often, “you can’t spell families… without lies”… ouch! So much for “only connect”.
Quentin Crisp, English actor and raconteur, comments “living enfamille provides the strongest motives for rudeness combined with the maximum opportunity for displaying it”… ouch! So much for “only connect”.
At the first Christmas there was abundance, a cornucopaeia of connection…
wise men and shepherds, the ruler of the universe and a smelly stable, the intuitiveness of dreamers and the logic of expositors, beasts of the field and angelic beings and, above all, the very stuff of our humanity and the very essence of the divine.
The fantasy writer George MacDonald wrote, “With his divine alchemy [God] turns not only water into wine, but common things into radiant mysteries. [The obfuscating spirit] of the commonplace [meanwhile] is ever covering the deep and clouding the high”.
The prophet Isaiah sings with delight of the child born to us, who ushers in a never-ending peace, peace that renews our connect with others, within ourselves and with our God. The prophet Isaiah offers us the promise of emerging from darkness into light so that we are empowered, equipped, enabled to connect with even the phantoms of our past, the specters of our souls.
Friends, you and I (in the words of E.M. Forster) yearn to “live in fragments no longer”. In fact we can call the whole work of salvation, the work of de-fragmentation… the work of “only connect”
If pastoral/parish/personal experience teaches me anything I believe in church today they are those who have parts of their lives to which they would much prefer not to go; aspects of emotions and past experiences with which they would rather not connect. And yet, to be whole, we must connect… but thank God (here is the great news) we need not go to those places alone for God goes with us.
One day at Morning Prayer, a young woman came and sat in the church I served in Philadelphia. I thought she might be at a loss with the order of service so I left the sanctuary and approached her. She looked and said, “I don’t know what to do” – I said simply, “Move over”… sat beside her and led the way through the intricacies of our Prayer Book.
And then it struck me… so God does to us. He leaves the holy place, the sanctuary, the heavens above and comes to us. We say, in many ways, “I don’t know what to do”. And then we hear the joyful Christmas message, “Move over” and he comes, sits beside us and “leads the way”. Leads the way to wholeness, to integration, to the bringing together of erstwhile and chronic warring factions deep within our psyche – to connection.
This Christmas “only connect” and if this seems to you an awful task… let this child of beauty, the Christ-child, lead you. “Only [whatever else you may do] connect” with the God who loves you and has for you a beautiful future.