Christmas Day and the First Sunday after Christmas
Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7 - link to NRSV text - (Option 1 only)
Luke 2:1-20 - link to NRSV text - (Options 1 and 2 only)
John 1:1-18 - link to NRSV text - (Option 3 for Christmas Day; gospel for First Sunday after Christmas)
I am bringing you news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Lord, the anointed!
Last week, my sermon asked the congregation to imagine for a moment what it would mean if it was really true, really a message from the God of Israel, that Jesus saves us from sin.
Imagine that: everything needed to overcome every dark force or impulse that isolates us from one another and from God came into the world two thousand years ago. The fall of sin itself! That's a change bigger than the fall of communism, bigger than the fall of terrorism.
We who receive Jesus, the Christ, are not just living in a new era: we are living in a new world.
That can be very hard to hold on to, though, when things are dark. There's a lot of bad news in the morning paper. Every day, headlines tell us how many more have died in Iraq. Many of us have loved ones serving there, or in Afghanistan, and we fear for their lives. There are headlines about corruption, turmoil, disease. And then there are the private sorrows that don't make the headlines, the dark moments of a child caught in the crossfire when a drug deal goes bad, a woman whose life is in danger from an abusive husband, an illness that seems as senseless as it is painful.
Sometimes, it feels overwhelming. How can we look at the world as it is and still say that Jesus has conquered sin and death? How can we look at the world as it is and still say that Jesus is the Lord? How can we look at the world in its darkness and say that the Light of the World has come?
We are not the first people to struggle with these questions. Luke portrays Jesus' birth as taking place during the census of Quirinius, governor of Syria [*]. A census may sound harmless enough -- but then take a look at 2 Samuel 24:1-17, in which David's taking a census is presented as a sin so grievous as to be punished with the deaths of seventy thousand people. More to the point, Luke knows that the specific census taken by Quirinius so represented the unjust taxation and oppressive rule of Rome that it inspired a revolt led by Judas the Galilean, as Luke mentions in Acts 5:37.
Luke knows that Jesus was born in dark times. He knows about the dark times that followed as well -- the famine in Judea that necessitated Paul's collection for Jerusalem from churches across the empire, the war with Rome that broke out in 66 A.D., the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., strife within synagogues as Christian Jews refused to take up arms even to defend Jerusalem and the Temple, the persecution and martyrdom of Christians whose refusal to honor any lord other than Jesus and any father other than God angered their families and neighbors as well as the Roman authorities. John's gospel also reflects the turmoil of its times, of rejection and persecution and martyrdom at the hands of those who think they are doing God's will by killing. Those were dark times indeed.
But Good News!
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness--
on them a light has shined.
Jesus has come among us. God's glory is revealed! We can "see this thing that has taken place, that the Lord has revealed" (Luke 2:18), if we choose to follow the signs.
And what are the signs? A child, wrapped in ordinary cloth and lying in a manger. A peasant girl, narrowly spared from being stoned to death by her village after her husband-to-be found her to be pregnant with a child that wasn't his. An overwhelmed father, doing his best to find shelter for his family on a night when they are homeless and friendless. A gathering of shepherds, among the lowest of laborers.
It doesn't look like a special-effects moment, so far, does it?
I think in some ways that what makes the Christmas story such an effective representation of how our hope of salvation is born. The Christmas story tells us that the world doesn't have to be made perfect before it is made new. The world doesn't have to be rid of sinners before we are freed from sin. The world doesn't need to be rid of darkness before we can walk in the light. Indeed, Christmas tells us that God's glory is revealed in the muck of a stable and the pain of a Roman cross as it could never be in the brightness of the heavens, because the greatest glory of God is God's love.
It's an extravagant love, poured out for each one of us as if we were the only person in the world to love. It's a generous love, lavished upon us in unlimited supply. It's an unconditional love, offered without reservation or regard for what you have and haven't done. It's love without borders or limits, as the Christ whose birth we celebrate this season has called all people as God's people, chosen and cherished.
Prophetic words through the centuries testified to this love, but a love like that is beyond comprehending. And that's why we needed Jesus. Jesus is more than a teacher who can help us understand the words in scripture. Jesus is the Word made flesh. We don't have to figure it all out; we can experience it in relationship. And Jesus isn't just an admirable character in a story, given so that we can imagine what he might do. The power and the hope of Christmas comes to us here and now, again and again, because through the Spirit whom Jesus sent to us, you and I and all who are called by God are the very Body of Christ. Every Sunday as we gather for worship, every time any two or three of us gather anywhere, we are invited to experience God's love not as a passive observer, but as an active participant. We come to Jesus' table, and the Word made flesh meets us in the flesh.
It's a new life. It's a new world. Right here, right now, we are invited to experience the Incarnation we celebrate in Christmas by living and loving as Christ's Body in the world. That's the light we walk in, that shines all the more brightly in the darkness that cannot overcome it. That's the hope that sustains us, the peace that keeps us centered amidst life's turmoil, the joy that makes eternal and abundant life present in the here and now.
Jesus the Christ is born! Our salvation -- the salvation of the world -- is here!
Thanks be to God!
* Quirinius became governor in 6 A.D., while Herod the Great died in 4 B.C. This means that, historically speaking, we can't reconcile Matthew's claim that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great with Luke's claim that Jesus was born while Quirinius was governor of Syria. I think it's fair to say, though, that neither Luke nor Matthew were not concerned anywhere near as much with what year Jesus was born as they were with the theological significance of Jesus' birth. return to the reflection
Nice blog, nice smile, sad eyes.
Posted by: Robert Ogden | Dec 29, 2007 6:44:04 AM