Isaiah 9: 1 - 6
|Date:||December 25, 2020, Christmas|
Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm, all is bright.
Hearing today's Gospel reading from Luke's account of Jesus' birth it's easy to situate this incredible event in a scene painted by that very familiar Christmas hymn. And at some level, we need that. The incarnation holds a promise of silence, holiness, calm and brightness so sorely needed at this particular coronavirus-tinted world we are experiencing. But if Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, it is critically important that we pay attention to what God is saying to us. I would suggest that God is saying something to us about right here and now as well as the kingdom of peace and justice and love that will come.
I think if we take a look at the Christmas story we start to see what God is trying to get us to understand. For more than a thousand years, God had tried to get his people to understand who God is and how God wants us to live. But we humans are a pretty stubborn bunch. We kept trying to make God over in our image, misunderstanding God as a powerful King who demanded tribute, in money, or food, or even human lives in order to keep God happy. Or we misunderstood God as a stern judge, ready to pounce on any one who did anything wrong and punish him. Or we misunderstood God as mighty warrior, who would fight against our enemies as long as we belonged to the right people, or said the right prayers, often enough or loud enough.
Despite the clues, we thought we could manipulate God into doing our bidding by offering sacrifices or building big temples. We thought that God only loved the rich and the powerful. We thought God was separate from our lives and only accessible through big festivals or displays of piety or in big temples or churches.
So if God really became human in order to tell us what God was really like, and what God's plan for salvation really is, what do we hear God saying when we step back from Silent Night, Holy Night and look at what is really happening in Luke's story.
If I understand God as the one who is going to do everything for salvation, what is God saying when we hear God waiting for Mary to say yes to the invitation to give a human life to God? What does it mean that God is radically dependent on the yes from this young woman? Mary is the least of the least: a woman in a culture that assigns no value at all to women; in a culture that is on the fringes of the known world, controlled by the powerful Roman Empire? And yet here is God holding his breath for Mary's answer. And what is God saying when Jesus comes as a tiny baby, completely dependent on humans for his very survival?
If I understand being holy to mean always calm, always bright,, what is God saying when we listen to Mary struggling with the messiness of finding herself pregnant before she is married? Or the messiness of having to travel to a tiny backward town with nothing and to give birth there, away from all the help she would have had at home.
If I understand God as asking us to become important and to do great big things to spread the good news, what is God saying by coming in human form at time and a place where he had no power, no influence, no technology for getting the message out to a wide audience? When the among the first to hear of his birth are shepherds, who were the lowest most despised rung on the social ladder. And the disciples he gathered were fishermen and tax collectors and the apostles he sent to spread the good news were a woman married 5 times and Mary Magdelene and the 11 disciples who denied him and ran away at the first sign of trouble?
If I understand that God is about punishment and identifying who is a sinner, what is God saying when Jesus returned love and forgiveness for hate and injury? When he died rather than resort to power and vengeance?
What a wonderful, deep, messy, challenging story.
One thing that is clear to me is that God is inviting us to learm more and more about what God is saying to us rather than trying to project our human ideas and desires onto God's word. There are many ways to do that. One obvious one is what you are doing here, coming together to celebrate Eucharist. Another way might be to sign up for our upcoming Alpha sessions. It doesn't get much easier than it is now that you can do Alpha from the comfort of your home. Another way is to go home and read the two birth stories that are in the Gospels again. Read Luke's version tonight before you go to bed. And then when you get up tomorrow, read Matthew's version, maybe even before you open the gifts. May you all have a blessed Christmas, one that is calm and bright, and holy, and a balanced mixture of silence and the noisy chaos of family, even if it is on a video chat.