Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sermon, Christmas Eve, Luke 2:1-20

I want to talk about God tonight. Shocking, I know. Who would've guessed that you would go to church on Christmas eve and hear a sermon about God?

How do you see God? And feel free to answer that question. People have many images of God: an old bearded man sitting on the clouds; a punisher seeking retribution for sins; a higher spiritual power; a friend; and we could go on.

One of the problems in defining God is that we are limited by our own imaginations, experiences, thoughts and, really, by our own humanness. When we say, “God is THIS,” we automatically place limits on God. If God is THIS, does that mean God can't be THAT? We have taken the unlimited, unbounded, unrestrained, unconstrained, eternal, almighty I AM and begun the process of building a box which we control, limit and constrain God.

These are some of the reasons why something called apophatic theology was developed. Instead of trying to define what God is (positive terms), apophatic theology tries to define God by what God isn't (negative terms). For instance, God provides like a father and protects like a mother, but God is neither male or female. Trying to define God in positive terms reveals not the nature of God, but things around God's nature. Apophatic theology tries to look for the experience of God, rather than an intellectual understanding of God.

Regardless of how we talk about God, though, we have to be very careful that we don't make God a god of our own image. We need to be careful that we don't create a god who loves only those whom we love and hates those whom we hate.

The eternal God who is before time, who is after time, who is outside of time itself, who created the infinite boundlessness of space and is simply known as I AM is much more bigger than we can ever hope to conceive.

And therein lies the miracle of Christmas.

The miracle of Christmas is that the eternal, everlasting, everliving God, the great I AM by whose will everything was created, revealed himself to the world in the form of a 6 lb., 8 oz. baby boy born to an unwed mother and adoptive father. The God of the universe, creator of all that is, seen and unseen, came to earth as the child of a low-income peasant family born out of wedlock.

This incarnational moment is the single most important event in our history. But what about Easter, you might ask. That event is also hugely important, because in the big picture we see ourselves as a resurrection people, a people who have been given new life which death holds no sway. But without the Incarnation, without Christmas, there is no Easter.

Tonight we celebrate the greatest miracle ever. Tonight we celebrate the moment God, the eternal, almighty, everliving creator of the visible and invisible was born to an unwed peasant mother in a stable and laid in a feeding trough because nobody gave them a room. Tonight we celebrate that moment when God the Son, coequal, co-eternal and co-creator with God the Father, emptied and humbled himself by taking the form of a lowly human.

This is something we must not ever forget: that God came to earth, took human form, and dwelt among us. This is the miracle of Christmas. And not only that God became human, but that God lived with, dwelt with and cared for those people living on the margins of society.

Jesus wasn't born into a royal household with trumpets blaring. He wasn't born into the halls of power where he ruled a country, compelling all to bow to him and running out of town and country those who disagreed with him. And he didn't live his life catering to the rich and powerful.

God came first to a poor single mother and adoptive father and his birth was first announced to shepherds. There's been a bit a lot of discussion and research about those shepherds. They were marginalized because of their job. They were social outcasts. They were poor. They were thugs. All of these things may or may not be true. But I read something interesting the other week that posited that the shepherds were children – another group of vulnerable people.

If we think back to the anointing of David as King of Israel, this thought makes sense. Samuel gets word from God to go find a new king. He ends up at Jesse's house where seven of Jesse's sons are presented as candidates. None of them are selected.

“Is this all of them?” Samuel asks.

“No, there is one more, the youngest, but he's out tending the sheep.”

The youngest was out tending sheep. And there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks. Then an angel of the Lord appeared and announced the arrival of God on earth.

From the beginning, God has been concerned with the most vulnerable in society. The prophets continually spoke out against the mistreatment of the powerless by the powerful. And now, on this night, God himself reminds us of his concern for the powerless by arriving in the form of a baby born to an unwed peasant girl and announcing this event to a bunch of shepherds who may have been younger than 14.

So this is Christmas. This is the eve of the Incarnation. This is when we remember that the eternal creator of all that is, the great I AM who is outside the boundaries of space and time came to dwell among mortals. This is the time we remember that his love for us is mirrored in our love for a child. This is the time when we remember that God came first not to the rich and powerful but to the poor, powerless and outcast. This is the miracle and that is the gift.

This Christmas may we remember the gift we have received. This Christmas may we remember the incarnational event when the great unknowable and undefinable I AM came to dwell among us. This Christmas may we remember that God gave up power for love. This Christmas may we love God like a baby with all of the unbounded hopes and dreams and potential that provides. And more importantly, this Christmas let us remember that everybody, even those whom we consider outsiders and outcasts, began life as Jesus began life – a vulnerable baby in need of love.

In the Incarnation, God gifts us with love in places we don't expect. This Christmas may we give that same gift of love to people who might not expect it of us. Because the Incarnation wasn't only in the manger, the Incarnation is present when we see God in others.

Amen and Merry Christmas.


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