(Before I started my sermon I took a "selfie" with the congregation - the NJ synod has been requesting pictures from all the congregations across the synod, and since it made sense with my sermon, why not take one from the pulpit? My congregation was pretty amused by the whole process.)
And now back to our regularly scheduled sermon.
Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
If that was your first selfie, Congratulations! I hope it was everything you’ve always dreamed of. If you have children, grandchildren, or have been to the mall lately, when you’ve seen all the cool kids doing this [phone], now you know what they’re doing.
I remember the first time I heard the word ‘selfie’ – a colleague shared her annoyance that two girls were taking a “selfie” during worship, this time NOT with the pastor’s permission. I remembering thinking – what in the world is a selfie?
I have since learned that a selfie is a picture you take of yourself with your phone. It can be taken when you are alone or when you are with a group of friends or family having a good time. You can take one when you are in a special place, or you can take one while cooking dinner. You can even take them at church, but not during the service, unless of course your pastor asks you to and its part of her sermon.
But the ultimate point of a selfie is not to keep it to your SELF, but to share it with others. When we take a selfie and share it with the world, we are saying: this is who I am and who I choose to portray myself to be. And so, we want to share with the world only our very best “SELF-ie.” Our “best hair day” self. Our “marriage is just great,” self. Our “handling the diagnosis well” self. Our “I’m just fine” self. Our “I don’t need any help, thank-you-very-much” self. We’ll share anything but our actual, real life selves.
It’s like that perfect photo Christmas card you always get from that one family. Or maybe you are the ones trying to BE “that family.” Your children smiling, your pets behaved, the house clean, the tree perfect, everyone dressed in their best and showing only their best. What usually isn’t included on these cards are the before and after. How the phone was ringing, the kids were fighting, the cookies came out of the oven, burned to a crisp, the house looked like a disaster, the cat had knocked over the tree, and the dog had an accident. No one wants to share THAT on a Christmas card.
We have become very good at editing our lives to look perfect inside that Christmas card frame. It takes a lot of energy. And at this time of the year it seems to become a matter of life and death. What is inside our perfect frame becomes our world, and we can’t see that there is a whole world “out there.” We can’t see that God is trying to break into our selfies.
If you've been to New York recently, you may have seen the interesting publicity ads that the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn has put out, wanting to draw people back to church this holiday season. We see an image of a young woman taking a selfie – what else – but on the screen of her phone you see that someone else is in the picture behind her, though there obviously is no one there. In the viewfinder, you can see just beyond her shoulder a fuzzy image of someone we assume is Jesus. The tagline of the ad is “It’s never just a selfie – join us this Christmas.”
|This is the picture from the ad. A little weird, no?|
Creepiness aside…. I think this ad is TRYING to say… that Jesus is present in with you and will show up when you least expect it, even when – or ESPECIALLY when – we are still stuck focusing on ourselves. Like when we are orchestrating our lives to be a Christmas card. Or when obsessed with taking selfies, and our brain stays on “selfie mode” long after the phone has been put away.
I wonder if this young woman in the ad would see, if she were to switch cameras, from the lens pointing toward her to the one pointing away from her. What would she see if she pointed her camera at the world? Would Jesus show up out there too?
At least for us, though, while we’re so busy trying to be our selfies instead of our-SELVES, God shows up. God shows up, shining light into our darkness. God shows up, binding up our broken and bruised hearts. God shows up, comforting those who mourn. God shows up, freeing those who are oppressed and imprisoned. God shows up, and gives us a reason to be glad and rejoice in all circumstances.
Basically, God is photobombing us. The term may not be familiar, but the experience is– you’re on vacation, taking a picture of your family in front of a beautiful vista, and later see in the background some random kid making a funny face. Or when you’ve set up a nice portrait, put the camera on a timer, and your cat sticks her face in the way at the last minute. Or, apparently, when Jesus unexpectedly shows up in your selfie. Or in your life. Or when a man is send from God shows up suddenly to tell the people that God is about to do something big. That the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world, spoiling our perfect selfie.
John the Baptist seems to be the kind of guy who would never take a selfie. We really don’t know much of anything about him, at least if we were to base our facts in the Gospel of John. Here there is no indication of his wardrobe choices, hair style, or eating preferences. Even the Pharisees knew next to nothing about him – so the sent some priests and Levites to get the scoop on this guy. Who was he? Was he the messiah? Was he the prophet? Was he Elijah? Why was he baptizing? What did he have to say for himself?
They tried to get a read on him, tried to get him to write his biography, invited him to interviews with Oprah and on the Tonight Show, tried to get him to write a bestseller, Your Best Baptism Now.
But not these followers, these attentions, or these questions deterred him. He did not waver. He stayed on message.
He came as a witness to testify to the light, to prepare the way of the Lord and make the paths straight, to make the world ready for the one coming after him. In most of the artist who have painted John throughout the ages, most have pictured him pointing, like on our bulletin cover this week. Take a look. John is pointing away from himself, up and out beyond the frame of the picture, toward the light. And later, as the light manifests in Jesus, John cries out “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”
Yes, behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Yes, behold the light that is coming into the darkness of the world, the word who became flesh and lives among us. Behold, a little baby born to a teenage mom far from home and placed in a manger. Behold, one who fed the hungry and healed the sick and cared for sinners. Behold the good shepherd, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Behold, the son of God lifted up on a cross, drawing all people to himself. Behold, the empty tomb and stone rolled away. Behold, the Lamb of God photobombing our selfies and interrupting our lives with light shining out in a very dark world.
John was not the light, and we are not the light, but we, like John, are sent from God to be witnesses to the light, to see it, and then tell others what we see. I've shared before the saying “Jesus is God’s selfie” - Jesus reveals to us the essence of who God is. But I think I’d like to take it a step further, if I dare, and say that WE are JESUS’S selfies. We are created in the IMAGE of God, revealing who God is and pointing to where God IS showing up in the world.
Behold, a seventeen year old Pakistani girl named Malala wins the Nobel Peace Prize for championing girls’ education. Behold, the person who gives a dollar to a homeless man so he can by a hot cup of coffee on a cold day. Behold, the Canada teen who fought bullying by founding Positive post-it day. Behold, the huge collection of gifts at our front door, which will be given to children in need all over Hightstown. Behold, a protester in Ferguson, Missouri, giving away free hugs and encouraging reconciliation and peace. Behold the Lamb of God.
Our own “beholds” may not be for anything fancy. But we need to do our part and show up too, just as God does all the time. After all, as Pastor Nadia Bolz Weber has said, “the greatest spiritual practice is just showing up.” And after all, that’s what God does for us. And for that, we can say AMEN.