“A Christmas Story”
December 25, 2011
"I bring you good news of a great joy….for unto you a child is born this day in the city of David, and you will find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."
This is good news.
This is good news to us because we know who that child is – we know the man he will grow up to be.
We know of his ministry and his teachings.
We know about the healings and the miracles he will perform.
We know that he will bring down the mighty and vindicate the lowly.
We know that he will suffer and die at the hands of those who fear him.
And we know God will raise him up out of his tomb and he will forever be a presence right by our side -
Guiding, comforting, strengthening and redeeming.
We hear the words “and unto you a child is born” and we see Jesus. Emmanuel. God with us.
And hopefully, we feel the great love that he has for us, and the great love that we have for him.
But to those shepherds standing out in that frozen field on a cold winter’s night 2,000 years ago, this GOOD NEWS brought to them by a heavenly messenger must have been puzzling.
Why would the birth of a child in a far away town have any bearing on what happened in their lives?
How could a baby save the world?
They had heard the stories of the great Messiah who was expected to come and vanquish those in power and set the oppressed free, but these were only stories.
These were tales that they told each other every night around the dying embers of the encampment fire.
These were stories that were intended to give them hope, to give them a reason to get up in the morning, to inspire them to go out and stand in that field day after day after day, doing a job that only the lowest of the low were expected to do, scratching out a living that left their stomachs rumbling on more nights than they cared to admit.
They did not want to believe that God had forsaken them.
They didn’t want to believe that it was up to them to lift the weight of poverty and oppression off their shoulders.
They knew they were not strong enough to do it all on their own.
The stories the shepherds told of the coming Messiah kept their hope alive.
The hope that someone greater than they would lift them up and set them free.
A Messiah is just what they needed – but they needed a full grown Messiah – a King, a warrior, a vanquisher – someone who had the power to step up and make their lives better, right here, right now.
What were they to do with a baby?
Even if that baby was the Messiah, few of them could expect to still be living by the time this child grew to assume power.
And if that baby was the Messiah, why tell the world about it now?
You may as well paint a target on the child’s back – every King and political leader in the region would want him dead, and what could his parents possibly do to protect him?
A baby is small, and vulnerable and weak.
The very things a Messiah is NOT supposed to be.
The very things a GOD is not supposed to be.
Which is why even in our time, so many question why we Christians believe this fanciful tale of a God who chooses to come into the world not in a blaze of glory, not through an awesome display of power and strength, but chooses instead to slip into the world in the quiet of a winter’s night, in the form of a crying infant, something so small, so vulnerable, and so weak.
What an improbable, implausible tale.
Who would be crazy enough to believe it?
But we have to ask ourselves, what are we missing if we don’t believe it?
When I was an undergrad working on my bachelor’s degree I took an introductory religion class, and when it came time to discuss Christianity and the incarnation of Jesus one of the students raised his hand and asked how anyone possessing even average intelligence and a rational mind would believe such a fantastical story.
Why would an all-powerful and infinite God diminish itself by becoming a powerless and finite human being?
Why would an all-knowing God have a need to become human to learn what it is like to BE human when God already possesses this knowledge?
And realistically, how could a being as large as God is said to be, contain itself inside the body of one tiny human being?
I still remember the professor’s response.
She looked at the student with a knowing smile, and said,
“Because an all-powerful God has the power and the ability to do anything that God wants to do.”
Even if it means becoming small enough to fit inside the body of a squirming infant.
Perhaps God did not need to become one of us to know what it’s like to be one of us - to know what it’s like to feel pain, to feel joy, to feel hopelessness and despair.
Perhaps God didn’t need to incarnate in the body of Jesus to know what it is like to suffer and die.
But perhaps God understood that WE needed to know that God felt and empathized with our pain.
Not as some distant deity, but as a God who is close enough for us to reach out and touch.
And the best way that God knew how to help us feel that closeness was to become one of us.
To know what it feels like to be born kicking and screaming into this world, to feel the chill of the cold night air and the warmth of a mother’s arms against newly bared skin, to look up through clouded eyes and see the faces of joyful parents and curious strangers, to be held in the supportive embrace of a loving community.
What a fantastic way to build a bridge between an infinite God and a finite human being.
God steps into our world, and in the process God allows us to step into God’s world.
As the infant Jesus, God depended upon us for food and shelter and even life.
And in return, God gave up power and control so that we would know that God understands what it is like to feel helpless and weak.
What an amazing and unexpected thing for God to do.
And what an improbable, implausible tale God has given us to tell.
Who would be crazy enough to believe it?
Despite their fear and misgivings, those shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night were crazy enough to believe it.
They went to Bethlehem, they saw the child, they believed the angel who told them the good news - that this baby was the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
And when they returned to their homes they told everyone within earshot that the wait was over, that the hope and light of God had been born into the world.
And 2,000 years later, we’re still telling this story, we’re still holding on to that hope, we’re still celebrating and sharing this good news.
Now, some of us may still shake our heads at the implausibility of this story.
We choose instead to see the social ramifications of the Nativity tale.
Jesus is born poor and homeless to an unwed undocumented teenage mother, under the oppressive regime of a totalitarian king.
Jesus is the poster child for all the social ills and human rights issues that we’re still wrestling with in our time. His birth serves as a reminder to us that great things often come from humble beginnings, and that all human beings have value, even those whom we tend to ignore, dismiss, or outright despise.
But I have to believe that there is more to the story than this.
If this is the sole message of the Jesus story than his story is no different from the thousands of other children who were born in his time, or in our time.
What makes the Jesus story so special is that God chose this moment in time to enter into our story.
On Christmas day we celebrate the moment when God became human and nothing is ever the same after that.
Incarnation means change.
It means God coming into our time and into our space and into our lives and into our comfort zone and shaking things up and causing them to be recreated in a new way.
The incarnation challenges us to initiate change and to be active, co-creators with God in the world around us.
What is the good news we are waiting to hear on this Christmas Day?
Perhaps like the shepherds we are waiting for a messenger who will tell us that the tide has turned, that the day of vindication and hope has arrived, that God is still with us.Or, perhaps we have secretly given up hope, in spite of our best efforts at trying to hide our despair with holiday busyness.Or worse, we may reached the point of assuming that it is entirely up to us to bring the peace that our hearts long for, and God will not bother to intervene at all.But isn't Christmas all about God intervening in human history?Isn't Christmas about God telling us not to give up hope - that it’s not up to us to do this all on our own? (1)
Isn’t Christmas about hearing and telling a story that is so implausible, it takes a leap of faith to believe it?
Once upon a time, in a far away land, a baby is born.
A baby that in many ways is just like you and me, and in many ways is the personification of who we are meant to be.
This baby embodies the hope and potential that each new life has to offer the world.
Yet this baby does not come into this world alone.
This baby has guardians, teachers, companions and friends.
This baby is born helpless just as we all are, and without the gift of human love and compassion, this baby will never grow to be the guiding light that many will come to rely on.
This baby is the expression of God’s love and grace entering into the world, and it is up to us to nurture it to fruition.
This baby is God incarnate.
This baby is all of us incarnate.
And I can’t think of a better story to tell on Christmas morning.
Merry Christmas to us all, and Amen.
1. Kathryn Matthews Huey, UCC Sermon Seeds