“Only connect.” The final thought of E. M. Forster’s Howard’s End (1910). “Only connect.” Forster (1879-1970) writes of the character, Margaret, “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. 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…”
Forster’s words have been swimming around in my head leading up to tonight. They’re never far away from me. He, she, is talking about writing here, connecting prose and passion, but this wisdom speaks beyond the world of writing. Words and emotions, bring them together and both will be exalted. Bring them together and love will be seen at its height. Enflesh the words with passion, with emotions, thought, purpose, and love will be embodied. In many ways, this is what tonight is all about, connecting prose and passion.
In a few minutes we will hear the majestic opening of John’s Gospel, one of the most profound expressions of the Incarnation in scripture; it’s why we’re here this evening. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word was with God. All things came into being through him…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-3, 14). Word embodied in human action, in a human life. Bring them together and love will be seen at its height.
The birth of Jesus the Messiah, Emmanuel, God with us, is the fullest expression of this truth – that God wants to connect with us and we really want to connect with God. It’s all about connection. This is the root and true meaning of the word religion. It doesn’t mean being holy or following religious practices, it has little to do with belief. Religion, from the Latin religare means, to make a connection. Our words ligament and ligature come from the same root. Religare. It’s all about connection – God connecting with humanity, humanity connecting with God, human to human, person to person, connecting with the depths of the self, connecting with creation, with the cosmos itself. As Einstein (1879-1955) showed us, this entire universe – at every level, from the micro to the macro, including the properties of light – is all based on connections, relationships, making those links and realizing how we’re all connected.
It’s really this simple and profound at the same time. This is the message. This is the story; the story in its simplest form. And the One who connects with us is Love itself, Love with a face. And because it is Love it’s untiring, it never gives up on us, never gives up in searching for us, reaching for us, desiring us.
And we never tire in needing to hear it again and again, to know it, to feel it, to encounter this Love – because at some level we don’t really believe it or trust it. It’s too simple. It’s too good to be true. For the truth is that there’s so much at work in our hearts and in the world, in the brokenness of the world that works against this, that disconnects. The plight of the human condition is rooted in the fact that we’re often disconnected from God, from others, from ourselves, from creation.
But sometimes there are truths so good not to be true, so good they have to be true – like snow falling on Christmas Eve.
I intentionally placed the anthem – Carol to Joy – before the sermon tonight and before we sing the carol Joy to the World after the sermon. For the upbeat message that Joy to the World proclaims, what we celebrate this night, must speak directly to the world as it is, especially the events of this dark December; Joy to the World cannot be detached from the world, the world reflected in the pathos and poignancy of that haunting anthem. Joy to the World must connect to a fallen world, to a fearful world, to a friendless world, to a world burdened and bound, to deep, dark valleys absent of light, for the lonely, the laden, the forlorn. To such a world a Savior has come. “For to you is the song” – to you and me. To you and you and you. For you is pardon. For you, healing and reconciliation. Look up sad hearted. To you is the song of songs, sung by angels, sung by the cosmic hum of the universe that God is with us and we are with God, God is in us and we are in God – and nothing, nothing, nothing! – in all of creation can separate us from the bond of that love. Humanity absorbed by divinity, divinity dwelling with humanity, enfleshing our lives with grace.
The world needs us this night. God needs us to live in fragments no more. Only connect. And the Word became flesh and lived among us. Always and forever. That is our joy. To you is the song!