24 December 2017
To all God’s beloved who are called to be saints; Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
This morning it was Advent, now it’s Christmas Eve. Are you ready? It’s a reasonable question, I think. We live in a busy and sometimes confusing world after all, we have busy, stress filled lives. I’ve been asked whether I’m ready for Christmas any number of times over the past couple of weeks. How about you? Have you heard that question lately? Or, maybe you have asked it of someone else. I suppose, now that it’s Christmas Eve, we do hope that we are ready. We hope that the house is decorated, and the tree trimmed. We hope that the gifts are bought, and wrapped, that the food is prepared or nearly so. If we have family or friends coming to visit we hope they are with us now. By Christmas Eve, surely, we are ready for Christmas. Aren’t we? Or, at least, we are as ready as we will ever be. Because, after all, when you come right down to it, the question remains. Are we really ready for Christmas? Are we ready for the utter and absolute miracle of the incarnation? Maybe the question should be: Can we ever be fully ready for the amazing event of God come among us not in power and glory as any of us might have imagined but in the total vulnerability of a newborn child. Are we ever ready to receive the gift of God’s love and trust? It’s an amazing story as Luke tells it. You remember. “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus…Joseph also went… with Mary… and while they were there the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him…and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” I’ve got to say, it sounds uncomfortable and it sounds scary. It sounds downright messy, and besides, who in their right mind would put a newborn baby in a manger of all places? Couldn’t Joseph have planned better? Shouldn’t he have left Mary home to be cared for her mother and her aunts? Then there was the strange assortment of visitors, not family, not close friends, but those shepherds who claimed to be led to the baby by angels. Who would willingly let a bunch of strangers, shepherds fresh from the fields crowd around their first born, new born? How’s your holy imagination tonight? What do you suppose it was like for Mary, a young new mother, surrounded by strangers and by animals. I have to ask: What was God thinking to present a savior, the promised Messiah, in such a way? Today my devotions I read a Christmas poem by Madeleine L’Engle. I’m going to share it with you all because it captures something important about the miracle of the incarnation, the miracle we celebrate as Christmas.
This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour and truth were trampled by scorn –
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.
When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn –
Yet love still takes the risk of birth.
Hum, “yet love still takes the risk of birth”. It was a risky thing God did, wasn’t it? That risking to be born as one of us, to live as one of us, time bound and limited as we are. As good religious folks we often talk about how Jesus came and died for our sins. And that is both true and important. Except, perhaps, it’s more accurate to say that Jesus died for our Sin, meaning our willful turning from God, rather than all those little sins that make up our days. Yes, Jesus did die for our sin and we really can’t experience the manger without also seeing the shadow of the cross. It’s just that to say Christ died for us is also an incomplete statement. Jesus came and lived for us too. And that’s every bit as important, that life of God with us. How else could we know God so well? How could we know as clearly what God is like without the life of Jesus? How else would we experience so plainly God’s goodness and love? It’s only because Jesus lived for us that we can pray as one favorite fictional priest does; “Oh God of abundance and mercy…give us the grace to [live in] hope.” The birth of God in a vulnerable human child, born to poor parents, displaced by a government decree, and sheltering in humble circumstances, somehow does let us live in hope all our days. After all, God does know what it’s like to be one of even the humblest of us. And so, we come today for all sorts of reasons, and however unready we may feel, to hear the story again and to celebrate this birth, this life. In the midst of our busy lives, and out of our busy, confusing, world, ready or not, we come today to be filled with hope, to be filled with the presence of the living God with us and within us. In just a few minutes now we will consecrate bread and wine, surely reminders of God’s presence with us. We will gather at this table, God’s holy people in God’s holy community, to be fed, to be filled, and then to be sent, carrying God’s presence into God’s good world. “Oh God of abundance and mercy… give us grace to live in hope.” Give us grace to carry that gift of hope into the world you have given us. Amen