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United Church of Jaffrey
December 2nd, 2108
A Little Known Fact
It is a little known fact that I, Mark Koyama, am the winner of a Nobel Prize.
Surprising I know!
Perhaps I should have mentioned it on my resume.
I would’ve told you about it before now… but you see, there is a little logistical technicality that has yet to be resolved, that has stopped me from doing so.
Most people who win the Nobel Prize, win it for Peace, or Literature, or Physics…
I won the Nobel Prize for a little known category of human inquiry.
I hold the Nobel Prize in Vacuuming.
Now you may object to this…
No doubt you will say… Mark… there is no such thing as a Nobel Prize in Vacuuming.
Well… yes, you’re right about that.
That’s the little “logistical technicality” that I referred to earlier.
I suppose it would have been more proper, if I’d begun my sermon this morning by saying that “in my mind” I am the winner of the Nobel Prize for Vacuuming…
This is how it happened.
The year was… 1975.
I was living in New Zealand.
My father was typing his latest manuscript on his massive Olympia manual typewriter.
My mother was either in the kitchen, or at the university library where she worked.
My brother was off somewhere, on his motorcycle.
And this, unfortunately, left me at the mercy of my sister Mimi…
Mimi was five years older than me — so in 1975, when I was 10, she would’ve been 15…
Today, my sister is a lovely woman, a remarkably intelligent and passionate woman nearing 60.
But in 1975, she was a tyrant…
She could fold her arms like Mussolini, bark orders like Adolf, and scowl like Idi Amin…
And… much to my chagrin, it was her considered opinion that our mother and father were not doing an adequate job raising us, and it was, therefore, up to her to pick up the slack…
And so it came to pass, on that afternoon in the summer of 1975, that she decided it was high time I was instructed on the subtle arts of vacuum cleaning.
She handed me the vacuum cleaner.
“Chop Chop” she said…clapping her hands… “Let’s go…”
I knew better than to argue. Arguing with Mimi was futile. She had arguing down to a fine art.
So I took the vacuum cleaner, turned it on, and half-heartedly pushed it around the room for a couple minutes. This done, I shut it off and returned to whatever it was I’d been doing.
“That’s not how its done!” She said superciliously.
She grabbed the vacuum cleaner and commenced her dissertation on effective vacuuming methodology. Her technique involved lining up the floor attachment of the vacuum cleaner with landmarks in the room and progressing systematically from left to right so that no square millimeter would be missed. As she came to end of each movement, she executed a little flourish that was distinctly reminiscent of an Olympic Ice skater. When, at length, she was done, she turned off the whirring beast, and in the blessed silence that ensued, she whipped the floor attachment off the end of the wand, and brandishing a pointy plastic nozzle, she issued her final, and most memorable proclamation
“It’s not over,” she intoned “until the crevice tool comes out!”
This morning is the second Sunday of Advent, the season of anticipation.
This week’s reading, like last week’s, comes to us from the Gospel of Luke — which should be no surprise, since, of all the gospel writer’s, Luke is by far the most interested in the events that led up to Christ’s birth.
Why is Luke — and hence the church — and now you and I — why are we all so interested in the events that led up to Christ’s birth?
Why not do as the other gospels do, and simply relate the story of Christ’s life from the time of his birth?
Modern biographers too, limit their research to the lives of important people from birth onward.
Harry S. Truman was born on May 8th 1884.
Langston Hughes was was born on February 1st, 1901.
We don’t know when or how they were conceived. It would be impertinent of us to ask.
That information is uncomfortably intimate, isn’t it?
In modern parlance, we have a three letter acronym that we use in moments like this — you may be familiar with it: T.M.I….
“Too much information…”
So when you think about it from our point of view — this whole thing — this whole Advent business is a little odd, isn’t it?
It’s a little TMI!
And it was when this peculiarity occurred to me that I remembered my sister Mimi, and her little known, but highly effective ”Nobel Prize in Vacuuming” gag.
Because you see…
When my sister Mimi stood there, proclaiming her truth as she brandished the crevice tool… I did what any self respecting 10 year old would do…
I admit, it was lame, but what could I do? I was 10, and I was playing woefully out of my league.
When she said “You’re never done, until you use the crevice tool!”
I gave her a simpering look and said: “Ahhh… Who cares?!”
She was ready for this… “Who cares? Why? Don’t you want to win the prize?”
“Why, the Nobel Prize! The Nobel Prize in vacuuming!”
“There’s a Nobel Prize in vacuuming?”
“Sure,” she said. “I’m working on getting it. Maybe you can beat me.”
She handed me the vacuum cleaner, and I set to work.
OK — so you get the gag. But what does it have to do with Luke and the events leading up to the birth of Christ…
One of the goals that Luke had in mind when he wrote his gospel, was establishing Christ’s credibility as a divine figure.
And it seems to be true the world over, that in order to be a credible divine figure one has to be born in an unusual way.
Athena, the Greek Goddess of wisdom, you may recall, was not born of a woman, but sprang fully formed from the forehead of Zeus.
The Buddha who was born from his mother’s side, immediately took seven steps and proclaimed himself the “Chief of the World!”
Muhammed’s mother dreamed of angels on the night he was born, and when he was delivered, all the false idols in the land crumbled to dust.
I remember, distinctly, pushing that vacuum cleaner around with an excited sense that I could be great!
I could win the Nobel Prize!
It is not enough to vacuum… everyone vacuums.
The smallness of my action did not matter — I was doing something magnificent!
My soul was magnifying vacuuming!
And this principle is true about Advent…
It’s not enough to be born. Everyone is born.
The birth must be magnified! It must be mythic.
The birth must be mythic because Jesus is God.
I pause to wonder, at this juncture, if any of you are thinking… well, this business of vacuum cleaning is all very amusing, but doesn’t it take the miracle out of Christmas, to suggest that Christ’s miraculous conception and birth was just Luke trying to make a big deal out of something ordinary?
I suspect that some of you may be wondering that, because I am wondering it…
But here’s the beauty of all this — and the reason why my ridiculous speculations this morning are not horribly sacrilegious…
Since our tradition insists that Jesus is both God and also human… Luke’s story is doing more then establishing Christ’s divine credibility…
When our tradition affirms that the birth of Jesus is an event of mythic proportions, our tradition also affirms, through the transitive property, that every birth is mythic.
And isn’t this true?
When Mary says “My soul magnifies the LORD”
She magnifies us all.
This is our greatest story — the grandest narrative of our culture and our religious tradition. It has been celebrated in churches and in art and literature, and in millions upon millions of living rooms across the world every year for thousands of years, and so it is momentus! It has won an honor far greater than the Nobel Prize for Literature.
And at the same time this is the story of a poor woman, giving birth in a shed.
She is in squalor.
Her child is born in an insignificant backwater at the edge of an empire.
Surely this is happening to many woman right now, as I am uttering this words, there are women in places all over this world, who are giving birth in squalor, under the corrugated iron of a shanty, under a tree, or, perhaps, in a barn.
And that this — this should become the greatest miracle story of our tradition — this is a fundamental affirmation of our humanity.
Giving birth — giving life is not an everyday act —
It is more than a physical act
It is an extraordinary, soul magnifying act.
It is a divine act that brings a little bit of God into the world.