Christmas Day, December 25, 2017
Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14
Love Runs Wild at Christmas
Imagine, if you will, that Jesus’ entrance in our world had been announced to a King and his court. He would be born to much fanfare in a jeweled palace, with only the most prominent rulers, powerful religious leaders, and wealthy, influential people in attendance. All of this is only fitting for one called the Son of God, right? At his birth he would be laid in a royal bed that is richly adorned, and inlaid with gold and silver. Only those who were considered the respectable in society would then be invited to pay devout homage to the Savior. This is all only reverent, and proper, right?
Wrong, Wrong, thanks be to God wrong! Instead, God confounds the wisdom of the world and Jesus ‘ birth is announced to an unmarried, humble young woman who must travel long miles because there is no room in town, and who gives birth to her first born-son in a manger, a feeding trough for cattle, attended only by farm animals and despised shepherds! Yet the Scripture that we just read tells us that “the glory of the Lord shone around them”, and a multitude of angles praised God and gave him glory for the gift that had been given. God has taken the ordinary, the humble, the lowly, the poor, and used it as a means to show the world his grace, power, and love. This is the message of Christmas.
And what other great, glad tidings can we celebrate this Christmas? What other wonders can we declare? Let’s look again at the Collect for Christmas Day that we read together a few minutes ago. It says: “Almighty God, you have given your only begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born this day of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and forever, Amen. This collect proclaims that in Jesus Christ, God has shared our human nature and is forever joined to us in solidarity and love. It tells us that at Christmas, and indeed at all times, God is working in us to revitalize, renew and transform us, drawing us into a deeper relationship of love. And as a result of the new life that the Christ Child brings, we are empowered to live humbly, justly, and mercifully, going out into the world to make the peace and reconciliation of Christmas a living witness to the Kingdom of God.
First, then, Christmas is about God, in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, “taking our nature upon him”. God doesn’t descend mightily from on high and invade our planet in a dazzling display of power, but instead, quietly, peacefully comes to be with us, in love and humility embracing the limitations of human flesh to be in solidarity with us. In that holy Child, wrapped in swaddling clothes, whose tiny hands and feet speak to us of complete vulnerability, God shares deeply in what it means to be human. This is what brings salvation. It doesn’t come from trying to perfectly follow the commandments or live up to the expectations of a distant and austere God. Salvation comes near to us because God fully shares our human experience and heals and restores human nature. The gift of the Incarnation means that the Divine, the Holy of Holies, has taken on human flesh and hallowed our life, loving us healing us, and transforming us. Heaven and earth are forever joined and human nature is blessed and restored to its glory as a reflection of the image of God. This friends, is what we celebrate at Christmas.
Second, in our Collect for today, we ask God that “we may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit.” The gift of Jesus Christ at Christmas is for the salvation and restoration of the world, and also for the renewal and transformation of each individual heart. In Christ, God longs to be incarnate, nurtured, and cherished in each life. He comes to feed souls that are hungry for love, hope, and grace, and to quench the thirst of those souls that have become cracked, hard and dry. He comes to stir up compassion, grace, and a hunger for justice in hearts whose love may have grown cold and hardened into cynicism. This Christmas, I invite each of us to look deeply and honestly into our own hearts. Are we asking the Christ Child to draw us to himself, to renew us, to strengthen us, to give us the courage to love? What keeps us from gladly, joyfully, and with abandon, welcoming the Incarnate One and the Spirit into our hearts to do their redeeming work? Are we too busy doing all the things, many of them good things that need to be done, to take the time to listen in silence to the whisper of the Spirit? Are we holding on to anger at God, ourselves, or others for the hurts and suffering of the past? Or perhaps we have simply let hope die in us, too discouraged by events in our world or disappointments in our own lives to dare to believe in love again? Friends, the Good News is that God is there! Know, too that even if we have turned away in anger or fear, God has never turned away from us and loves us without measure, longing to welcome us home again. And Christmas means that Christ longs to live in our hearts and restore hope, joy and purpose to those who are weary and forlorn.
Finally, Christmas means that our God works in ways that are surprising, liberating, and that turn the established order of things upside down. Isaiah tells us that the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light, that the yoke of the burden and the rod of the oppressor have been broken. In her Magnificent, Mary rejoices that God has lifted up the lowly and “scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.” In the Gospel we see that the Child is not born among the rich and powerful but among the humble poor, and the sometimes despised class of shepherds are the ones that praise and glorify God at Jesus’ birth. Throughout the record of history, our God is the God of the unexpected, stubbornly and tenaciously loving the rag-tag, rebellious, sinful, weak, yet strong, faithful and vibrant people of Israel and giving them a birthright as God’s people, a birthright that is a sign that all people belong to the royal priesthood, the holy nation. The message of Christmas is that grace, and light and mercy have been shed abroad in the world in a new and wonderful way, through the person of Jesus sharing our life and teaching us the ways of love. Christmas means that grace, peace and joy have the last world, and the deepest darkness has no chance against them.
Friends, I have seen so many signs of this hope and joy overcoming darkness, apathy, and indifference. In the news a few weeks back I read about the “layaway angels”, perfect strangers who have been coming into department stores and anonymously paying the layaway balance on toys and clothing for children so that their parents can provide gifts for their families. I was listening to the radio today and heard stories of people who lost their homes in the Sonoma county fires, One woman lost her home, and thought it would be a desolate Christmas. She said it was one of the best Christmases ever because “Christmas is not about the things, but the people.” A woman whose home was spared is opening it up for Christmas and inviting people who lost their homes to come and enjoy fellowship, food and cheer. She said “I have been so blessed and I realize now what Christmas really means- it means love and giving.” I hear about Muslims, Christians, and Jews gathering together during this holy season to learn about each other’s traditions and explore ways to work together for peace. The gift of Christ at Christmas is working its miracle of grace and peace in the hearts of people of every faith and culture. I see that grace overflowing here in your lives. People tirelessly work to serve the homeless poor through the Bread for the World, homeless shelter programs. You bring sandwiches and water to those who make their homes under the freeway bridges in San Francisco. You take time from busy lives to work in the Health and Wellness Center, and to make our church buildings hospitable and welcoming to the stranger and the poor who come here. And then you make late night trips to bring bread back to church to feed the hungry. You truly welcome the stranger here, and care for each other like family. I have been personally transformed and changed by the love that is given and shared here, and am so thankful to God for it!
I want to conclude with a quote from Madeleine Engle, the author of the book “The Irrational Season.” Of Christmas, she writes: ‘This is the irrational season, when love blooms bright and wild, had Mary been filled with reason, there’d have been no room for the child.” This is indeed the message of Christmas, love and grace that have run wild, out of control, filling the world with hope, healing and purpose. Merry Christmas everyone, and let your hearts, too, run wild with that amazing love. Amen.