Scandalous—sermon for Christmas Eve
December 24, Christmas Eve:
Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.
It’s probably my age, but I cannot hear this gospel, with out hearing it in the voice of Linus from A Charlie Brown Christmas…
Watching that was one of the holiday traditions in my family; along with my mom’s homemade cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. Christmas is a season filled with traditions. Traditions some you probably look forward to, others you might simply endure…
Telling this story from Luke, with the shepherds, and the manger, along with the story of the Magi from Matthew, form the core of this traditional story that we all know so well. Is it the most well-known story in the world? I wonder. Maybe Star Wars is more universally known at this point? Star Wars certainly generates more interest and social media activity than this, but both are deep in our cultural knowledge.
We love Luke’s story, but it’s so familiar, and has been so romanticized that it’s really hard to see it or hear it fresh. It becomes this static tableau, with way-too-perfect figures, in a ridiculously sanitized animal stall, gazing in wonder at an unnaturally quiet infant…everything about it utterly devoid of any semblance of reality.
Reality does echo through our readings. “The boots of tramping warriors…the garments rolled in blood,” those things are real, but they’re hard to deal with…just look at this pretty picture of the lady and the baby.
But here’s the thing….
The surprise of the nativity story…
the shock of it,…the scandal of it…has really nothing to do with angels, and shepherds and virgin births…
It’s not even this really bold claim that on this night God came and acted decisively in the world (because God has never left the world, and God has never stopped acting in it).
the scandal of this story is that God becomes embodied.
God takes all of the reality of our world including, and especially the flesh, and bone, and blood, and breath, and joins us in it.
God becomes human. Totally.
So that we might become divine.
People were scandalized by this then…and we’re still scandalized by it.
It’s why we try to sanitize it so much.
Try to preserve it in the amber of nostalgia.
Hidden beneath the cozy candlelit glow of the wonderful story is an utterly shocking reality.
God, who is without flesh…becomes flesh.
God, who is invisible…can be seen.
God, who is timeless…has a beginning and an end…a birth and a death.
As our ancestors in the faith put it…God shares in the poverty of our flesh so that we might share in the riches of God’s divinity. God becomes human so that we might become divine. [paraphrased from Oration 38, quoted from Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church, J. Robert Wright, ed.]
That the salvation of the world is accomplished through the birth of a child.
Through the incarnation.
Through the flesh and blood of birth and life.
That is mind-blowing
We are saved because God joins us and becomes one of us… fully human…fully enfleshed…
But what about the cross? The sacrifice on the cross is a price demanded by us…because we won’t understand and continue to reject this kind of absolute, self-emptying love.
The cross is the price demanded by the world, because we refuse to accept that the mode of God’s love is always to join in solidarity with the poorest, the weakest, the most broken…to join so completely and so intimately that God becomes the smallest, weakest, most vulnerable thing we know…an infant.
God acted and accomplished on this day—our redemption—the redemption of the world by becoming weak, vulnerable, and embodied so that we might have the strength and courage to do the same.
The story in Luke is beautiful.
But our world is dark, and frightening, and making a connection between this lovely pastoral manger scene and the hurly-burly of our daily lives is tough…
It’s a lovely picture, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with me…
with my life…
And if it’s only a pretty picture…a nice story…that’s probably true…but tonight, I want to invite you to really open yourself up to the shocking reality that Christmas points to.
That God the transcendent…the uncreated…Timeless…invisible God…By whom and through whom all things were made…has become flesh and blood…has entered the world through a woman’s body…has given up absolutely everything to become a human being…to become one with us…
So that we might finally see and be brave enough to do likewise, and follow where God leads. Amen.