Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sermon for Christmas Eve Midnight Mass 2007

It’s a surprise!!

My husband Tom and I are the grandparents
of two energetic, beautiful and brilliant grandsons,
Cedar and Orien.
Cedar is the oldest—he is 3-1/2. Orien is almost 2.
They live in Colorado on the top of a mountain (and I do mean the top!!)

It is a very exciting event in their day
when their daddy, our son,
comes home from work each evening.

Our son shared that one day a few weeks ago
Cedar ran to greet him at the door
Daddy! Daddy!
There is a great big package for you under the Christmas tree.
It’s all wrapped up and it is just for you.
It’s from mommy and it’s a surprise.

Tonight—Christmas Eve-- is the night of the ultimate surprise.
--and it’s not a coat--
it’s a baby.

The prophet Isaiah foretells:
A child has been born for us…
Authority rests upon his shoulders
He is named Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of peace.
There will be endless peace for the throne of David
and his kingdom.

All that sounds very good, doesn’t it?
I especially like that prophecy of endless peace.

So what happened?
Was Isaiah wrong?
Did God make a mistake?


The psalmist writes “Sing to the Lord a new song.”
A new song.

Why is it we always expect
that God will do things in predictable patterns?
That is so seldom true.
God is all about being born in new ways.
And that means we have to pay attention, to stay awake.

What happens in Luke’s gospel
in Bethlehem,
is a new song:
a baby named Jesus—
born not in a palace, but in a manger.

This was truly a surprise.
No one guessed or expected
such a preposterous arrival in the world—
not for the long awaited Messiah!
Yet all gather round and they are 100% convinced:
This baby is the One.

This baby is the good news of great joy for all people.
This tiny, scrunchy faced, completely helpless, totally vulnerable baby—
here, indeed, is our Messiah.

A new song.
It was not as anyone expected.
It was not as anyone had planned or even prophesied.
This birth, this baby, was a complete unpredictable surprise.

Everyone thought the Messiah would come as an adult, a powerful king,
like Saul, like David.
The world expected a full-grown, sword wielding,
justice rendering Savior King.
But what they get is a baby.
God had other plans.

Christ comes as a baby.
A helpless, dependent, crying, messy baby.
Not what anyone expected.
but more than anyone could have hoped for.

The word literally means “to take on flesh.”
This is what God did in Jesus.
God took on a human body and boldly entered into our world.

Incarnational theology has three basic points:
1. Jesus was fully divine.
2. Jesus was fully human.
3. Jesus was both fully divine and fully human at the same time—
it’s known as hypostatic union.


Now you can believe that—
or not.
You can take that incarnational theology
or you can leave it with a shrug or even a “harrumph.”

But what I think none of us can doubt or deny
is the power of incarnation.
The power when things come to us
with a “skin face.”

Coming face to face with someone
is totally different than reading about something,
or hearing a story about someone.

Coming face to face with someone is not theory or theology.
It is presence.

Not “presents” as in all wrapped up
and sitting under the Christmas tree—
but presence
as in the being right here with us.

A few friends I know have been bursting with excitement for weeks
because people they love dearly and deeply--
a brother, a daughter, a husband--
flew home from Iraq this week.

Not only are their families and friends immensely grateful
for the safe return home of those they love,
but they all said the same words to me:

I’m so excited.
In just a few days, I will get to see her face again.
I will get to hug and hold my brother,
my daughter,
my husband.
I will see their face.
I will look into their eyes.
I will hear them laugh.
I will wrap my arms around them and hold them.
They will wrap their arms around me and hold me right back.

The power of incarnation.
The power of being present in all our touchy-feely, skin-face humanity.

Jesus arrives and he is a baby.
A helpless, vulnerable baby.
There is no doubt of his need for others to help him.
What a surprise package that was!!

That is the message of this night for us.
To lay aside our plans and our power.
To be open and vulnerable—with God and with one another.
To treasure every moment we have here together as our fully human selves.
To love each other so much that we are willing
to lay aside our plans and need to control.

That is a very new song for many of us.
It is a scary proposition to make oneself vulnerable.

We adults are masters at putting on a good front,
of bucking up and taking an aspirin,
of keeping our fears and our deep needs—even our love—
to ourselves.
And expecting others to do the same.

Our worldly ways tell us it is all about power and control,
being strong, being right.

God says no.
It is all about being open, being vulnerable,
being able to need God and need one another.

The situation in the first century when Jesus was born
was not all that different from what we have and struggle with today:
injustice, exploitation,
power struggles, danger,

Believing that God is with us is not an assurance that we will never be hurt,
that we will never suffer.
Believing in God is not a steering wheel
that helps us swerve and miss all the potholes of life.

Our assurance is that God is with us
through all the road construction on our journey--
the delays, the detours, even the dead ends.

The assurance is that God delights in being the midwife for the birth
of our true, honest and vulnerable human selves.

The assurance is that if we are brave enough to sing a new song,
God will be there to accompany us.

The assurance is that God is guaranteed to surprise us—often.

A few nights ago
My husband Tom and I went out to dinner
at the North Star Diner in Weaverville.
There was a young couple there
with a little boy, not quite three years old.
He reminded us a lot of our grandson so we liked him immediately.

He was very active and lively--
and yes, there was a slight edge of total exhaustion
on the part of his parents.
Bright and lively children are not easy to keep up with 24/7!

This little boy—not even as tall as the table top—
was not about to do what was expected—
to sit quietly and placidly in their booth
and eat his macaroni and cheese.

He was much more interested in the people in the restaurant.
He slid from his seat, crawled under the table
and began walking around to each table in the restaurant.

He stopped at every single table
and with a big and gentle smile
gave everyone the same heartfelt greeting:
Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas.
People broke into big smiles.
People’s eyes lit up.
People’s stern facades melted away in an instant.

The whole restaurant was transformed by a tiny little boy—
a little boy with an open and vulnerable heart,
a little child who did not pick and choose
but greeted every single person there.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us,
Abide with us,
Our Lord

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