Sermon; Christmas Eve 2018
To borrow and paraphrase from Prince: Dearly beloved, we are gathered here tonight to talk about this thing called life. Electric word, life . . .
This line from Prince came to mind because this very-familiar gospel passage is full of life.
I was at a meeting last week listening to someone discuss a lecture he had heard regarding the actual date of Jesus' birth. I always find this fascinating because to me, it doesn't really matter. I understand that the probability of Jesus actually being born on December 25 is infinitesimally small; but as I said, “It doesn't much matter to me.” Nor does it matter that early Christianity may have . . . borrowed . . . December 25 to make it more accessible to the surrounding society. What matters is that Jesus was born. At all.
So I'm listening to this conversation about the date of Jesus' birth and the scholar being discussed gave a date in March. His reasoning was that lambs are born in the spring and this is the only time that shepherds would be out in the fields watching over their flocks – because they needed to protect the lambs from predators. If the scholar is right, it would make for an interesting theological point that the man we refer to as “Lamb of God” was born at the same time as the lambs in the field. But that's another sermon.
Today we are gathered here to talk about life.
Jesus was born. The when is not important. What's important is that Jesus was born. He was born like we all were – small and vulnerable. His birth was not . . . how shall I say it . . . sterile or airbrushed. It was probably loud. It was fraught with peril, as infant morality was a very real concern. And like the shepherds in the field protected their sheep and lambs, Mary and Joseph were there to protect Jesus.
He was born and it was electric.
On the Church calendar, Christmas tends to take second place to Easter. After all, Easter has that whole, “died and rose again” thing going for it. But Easter can't, or couldn't, happen without Christmas. Because it was at Christmas where God became a man who lived among us, and it was that man who was crucified and would eventually destroy death by his resurrection. But to get there, we need to start here.
We need to start here with the birth of Christ. We need to start here with the Incarnation of God. We need to start here in the messiness of life.
It starts here because unlike other hero/god stories, Jesus didn't appear fully formed out of somebody's head. It starts here because Jesus wasn't part of a godly pantheon, the result of a union between deities. It starts there because Jesus was indeed fully human, and humans begin as tiny beings who need to be fed, cleaned, and protected.
As he grew Jesus began to experience life in all of its electric wonderfulness. First steps. First words. First day of school. First successful wood shop project. These were all things to be celebrated.
But he probably also experienced life's electric messiness as well. I wonder if he ever got bullied by others in Judaism school for always knowing the right answer. Did he have a first crush? Did he ask someone to prom, only to get rejected? Did he ever have his heart broken?
And before you laugh, think about the time the people of his hometown tried to throw him off a cliff. Or the time he was belittled for being the son of that carpenter Joseph and Mary. Or the time he was betrayed by a close friend because he wasn't living up to expectations.
So yes, Jesus experienced the electric messiness of life.
And all of this is really the point of Christmas. The point isn't whether or not Christmas is actually December 25. The point isn't to argue about who says, “Merry Christmas,” vs. “Happy Holidays.” The point isn't to debate as to when it's appropriate to begin playing Christmas music. The real point of Christmas is that Jesus was born. As we sing in hymn 87, “Hail the incarnate deity.” God incarnate is the point of Christmas.
God came and shared in this thing we call life. Through the incarnation we have a focal point. Through Christ, God becomes human and relates to us on a whole new level. Through Christ we have an example of how to live in a healthy and complete relationship with God.
As an aside . . . there are some people who get all wonky when Christmas gets abbreviated X-mas. Besides all the linguistic issues with that about borrowing from the Greek alphabet and early church history, think about this: The eternal vastness of God came down to reside in a man. That man taught us how to move away from ourselves to a wider focus on God – X. Christ is the center point of the X.
So, God has become incarnate in the person of Christ. This incarnation doesn't shun life, avoid its messiness or overly-glorify the joyous. Jesus was born of a woman in the usual way. He lived and experienced life in all its heartwarming joys and heartbreaking calamities. He is one of us. And it is in this incarnation that we can proclaim Emmanuel, “God is with us.”
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here tonight to talk about this thing called life. Electric word, life.
So know this: in the electric joys, sorrows, wonders, and messiness, God is with us. What we celebrate tonight is that moment God came down to show us another way.
This is life. God is with us. And it is electric.