31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
December 2, 2018
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Four years ago, I was planning to have a baby when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The cancer journey; the year after of trying to get pregnant against the advice of my doctors; the final pronouncement from the fertility specialist “There’s nothing we can do for you”; It all left me feeling rather broken.
I am not the only one who has suffered through trauma, disappointment. I am not the only one who has felt cracked and broken. This congregation is full of people who have also struggled through cancer. There are those among us living with chronic diseases like fibromyalgia, arthritis, and HIV. We have felt our lives, our dreams shattered by divorce, addiction, abuse, depression, mental illness, the loss of a loved one through death or estrangement. I am not the only one who has gone through trauma. I am not the only one who has felt cracked and broken.
But we don’t talk about it. Because our culture teaches us to hide our pain from others, as if cancer, a miscarriage, being laid off, even addiction, were our fault.
Zechariah and Elizabeth felt this way. Despite their childless state not being their fault, the gospel writer quickly assures us that it is not their fault, still Elizabeth feels like it is. She calls her barrenness “the disgrace [she has] endured among [her] people.” (Luke 1:25)
Two thousand years later, we feel the same way. We equate trauma and situations totally beyond our control as “disgrace”, as something wrong with us. And we learn quickly to put on a happy face and pretend away our pain and sorrow, to pretend like everything is perfect, as we struggle alone to quietly pick up the broken pieces of our lives and glue them back together before anyone notices, before anyone can point out our cracks.
Our culture teaches us to hide our scars, our imperfections, our brokenness, but in some cultures they do the opposite. In Japan, there is an art form called kintsugi that actually celebrates brokenness instead of trying to disguise it.
Kintsugi, which is a combination of the Japanese words for “gold” and “patch”, makes broken pottery whole again using a mixture of gold. In kintsugi, the “patch” highlights the brokenness instead of hiding it; and the “patch” makes the piece stronger and more valuable.
What if we did not have to pretend away our scars? Hide our imperfections? Deny our brokenness? What if these things made us stronger? more valuable?
They do in God’s eyes. Each life experience; each trauma; each crack and flaw are a lesson. They teach us something. They teach us to rely more fully on each other; they teach us to rely more fully on God; they teach us to have hope even in the darkest darkness.
What our culture calls flaws and imperfections, what our culture teaches us to hide, God gilds with gold, God highlights and makes holy. God calls our scars and imperfections beautiful. God calls them gifts and uses our greater compassion, our greater vulnerability, our greater strength, our greater hope to bless the world.
While the world might have seen Elizabeth and Zechariah as old, useless, barren, God saw them as beautiful and valuable. The very things the world saw as brokenness, God saw as strengths because throughout their journey of life, throughout their disappointment and their “disgrace”, Elizabeth and Zechariah were faithful; they were resilient; they were wise in a way that comes only from having endured and kept going; and those were gifts they were going to need as they nurtured this special child. Those were gifts this child was going to need.
Because this child’s birth was about more than the continuation of Elizabeth and Zechariah’s family line, “even before his birth [this child] will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before [the Lord], …. to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:15-17)
This child was not only the fulfillment of Elizabeth and Zechariah’s dreams, this child would prepare God’s people for the fulfillment of their dreams, for the coming of the Messiah.
And as much as God knew that the people had been waiting, hoping, for this day, God also knew there were plenty of people who would want to hold onto the old ways, the old order, the known and comfortable.
Elizabeth and Zechariah’s child had an extraordinary call ahead of him, and he would need extraordinary parents, people who had struggled, people who had endured, people who had been tested by life and had chosen to remain ever faithful to God throughout it all. People who had hope.
Your story, your flaws and imperfections, your cracks and brokenness are a blessing because they are hope.
Right now, there is someone who is struggling alone in the darkness; someone who is trying to pick up the broken pieces of their life; someone whose pain and sorrow are deeper because they see themselves as “flawed”.
And you can comfort them by letting them know they are not alone, that you, too, have walked this challenging journey and survived, been tested by life and transformed.
There is someone who needs to hear the good news of your story, that yes, we have had cancer, been unemployed, survived abuse, been homeless, addicted, had depression, have depression. Yes, our lives are not perfect, but we are not “flawed” or “disgraced”, we are beautiful to God; we are strong; we are resilient; we are valuable.
As we walk this journey of life, as we walk this journey of faith, my hope is you will see yourself as God sees you – not flawed, not imperfect – Beautiful; strong; precious; a blessing.
And that you will let your life experiences, your cracks if you will, gleam as the gold they are, because there is no greater gift of hope we can share with another than to show that we have walked this journey too and with God’s love, have come out of it, stronger, wiser, better, kintsugi.