1st Sunday of Christmas
December 29, 2013
I hate this story. And I hate to have to preach it. It’s ugly and painful and blows sky high the platitudes we’ve been able to indulge in during Christmas. At the late communion service on Christmas Eve, I asked the gathered to think about the line that goes from the birth stories to the cross. What is there in the ‘infancy narratives’ that give us clues as to where this story will end? There’s plenty to break your heart: the promised one of God got his mother in trouble right away, but an angel intervened to tell his Dad that this was not an ordinary child; at the most uncomfortable time in her pregnancy, his parents are called to walk hundreds of miles for tax purposes, and relegated to sleeping in a barn; angels announce his birth to the local equivalent of homeless people, none of the ‘power people’ of the day don’t recognize or even seem to hear about this child, until these weird foreigners come looking for him. The powers of the world notice the title “King of the Jews” all right. Jesus is under the radar no more. Herod will do whatever is necessary to preserve his power, it’s the way of the world, and people just have to deal with it.
It’s really old news by now. Look at the world we live in, how are children and disadvantaged people treated every day? The world is such a hard place for those who have no power, no money, no resources and are dependent on the kindness and helping hand of others. War, famine, flood take their toll on our world, and people just have to deal with it. The tragedy of Bethlehem is shocking, but it’s just one in a long line of tragedies that existed when the normal was threatened, and is still part of life today. Is this what God wants? Is this story here to tell us that God is just part of the system in which human life is inconsequential? No. Definitely not.
Herod is the cause of this tragedy, and Jesus, the Prince of Peace becomes a refugee, warned by God’s warning through an angel, and protected by a loving father, who leaves everything behind to save his family from danger. God is the one who provides sweet intervention. This is the same God who walks with us, and walks beside every child who lives in danger, and every person who suffers in an uncaring system that shreds his or her humanity as it grinds on its way. If you want to know if God knows what its like to suffer danger, shame, loss, grief, you can look at this story and see it plainly. To be human means to be vulnerable to the powers of the world that de-humanize. And God came right into the midst of it, stirring it all up in order to begin the world anew.
It is not God who causes the poverty and the violence of war in our time or any time, but humans who grasp power and resources for their own satisfaction. And where is God in these days to save the child and plead for peace? It is us. The Church, us, the Body of Christ is God’s presence here in the world today. If this story chills you and makes you weep, use it to open your eyes to the tragedies that are still going on in this world, and listen to the angels calling God’s faithful to stand up to the powers of the world and prevent further damage.
And then listen in your own life to the Prince of Peace offering words of comfort for your own losses and griefs. “I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.” “I will not leave you orphaned, I will come to you and send my Spirit to comfort you.” In this story, we hear what it means for God to truly become human, and what that means in the order of the world. The Kingdom of God may be the kingdom of peace, but the world does not give in easily, wrestling all the time to have its way. We will see this story climax in the crucifixion. It is pretty much inevitable, given today’s story, that the powers of the world will not easily be dislodged by this Christ Child we read about this time of year. It will do its best to crush him, and our hopes for a different future for a world of peace and compassion. But his brutal death is not the end. In the same way that God brought new life to the world in Mary’s womb, God brings new life to the dead Jesus, and to our dead dreams for a new life.
And the miracle of it all is that God comes simply out of love for us, and our broken world. God couldn’t bear our sadness, our helplessness, our lack of love, our burden of ugly failure and sin. God felt compelled to do something, at great risk to God’s own self, as we see. Just because God loves. That’s the power that makes a new world possible. The power of God’s love in our own lives makes healing and hope possible. God’s forgiveness makes it possible for us to forgive and live side by side with others who are as flawed as we are. Together, we are called to be the peacemakers, the lovers, the healers of a world that is still becoming the world God dreams for all. May this story in all it horror, open our eyes to our call to be God’s hands and heart to help make the world the kind of place where such things could never happen ever again. Amen.
Now my the God of hope, fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by h the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.