Christmas Possibilities—Luke 2: 1-20
(December 24, 2019—Christmas Eve Communion Service)
I wonder sometimes if we aren’t all a little tired of this story. Perhaps that’s why Christmas has been re-invented as a key economic indicator, eagerly anticipated for it’s economic stimulus. Gift giving once a symbolic act of God’s gift to us has become disconnected from any spiritual meaning, co-opted by the machinery of greed and excess. I wonder if we’re a little tired of the story in these times when so many for whatever reason don’t even make Christmas eve an occasion for worship, for spiritual grounding. I wonder if we’re a little tired of the story because we know too much, the sciences have shown us the improbability of the star over bethlehem, Biblical scholars point out that there are no birth stories in Mark or John’s gospels, that the stories in Luke and Matthew are taken right out of the pages of the Hebrew scriptures.
I wonder if the story has gone stale, like bread left out too long, it lacks flavour, its hard to digest, it doesn’t nourish any more. For two millenia Christmas has been celbrated as an act of supreme grace, the coming of God in Jesus into the muck and mire that is human existence. I wonder if its all just a little too passive for us? We humans are doers, planners, controllers of our environment. Perhaps in our consumer-driven, church -weary, scientific, self-made times we just don’t know what to do with this gift. You know what that’s like, when you receive a gift you don’t know what to do with; you politely thank the giver but seeing no use for it, store it away or try to pass it on.
There is so much working against this story, so many forces working to gut it of its meaning and power. Literalism hasn’t helped. Treating the Christmas story as a historical event isn’t doing anything for us, keeping Jesus as a figure of history from 2,000 years ago, an object of worship, the one and only Son of God. It is as if we have been saying to God, “don’t show me what is possible, show me what is impossible.” Treating the story as a fable, a nice piece of fiction isn’t doing anything for us either. We analyze it, study it, judge it and put it back in storage with the ornaments and the lights, until next year. Both are ways of keeping Jesus and God at a distance. Both ways ask very little of us. Both ways tame the power of this story.
Here is a thought, what if the power of this story depends on what we do with this gift? What if incarnation depends on us? What if God being born, taking on flesh depends on us? What if Jesus showed us, not the impossible, but what is possible, for all of us? What if he was that rare human being who was ready to let God take on his flesh? What if that is our call as well? What if we are all like Jesus—sons and daughters of God? What if? What would that mean for you, for me?
It staggers the imagination. Me, you, a son, a daughter of God? God wants to inhabit our flesh? God wants to use us to bring hope to creation, to bring love to the unloveable, community to outcasts, integrity to our souls? You seet this story doesn’t want to be relegated to history, to fiction or endless study. This story wants to be lived out in our time and place through you and me. Because of that we might even experience it as a threatening story, much like King Herod did, This story might lead us to ask some questions, ‘What will I need to give up?’ “What fears will I need to confront?” “What will I have to embrace, to allow God to take on my flesh?
Of course if the story comes across as a threat, it is only so in our minds. Love never demands obedience. Love always come by invitation, or else its not love. Love is the offer of an outsretched hand. Yet, love won’t let us go either, God makes us restless for what is authentic and real. Literalism, hero worship and analysis only take us so far in the life of faith. Then, our faith whithers from a lack of depth, we give up on faith because we can’t reconclile it with rational thought or we go deeper. The call is to go deeper, the restlessness won’t go away, God won’t stop until we come face to face with the divine image in each and everyone of us. I wonder if that is what the storytellers Luke and Matthew saw in Jesus? I wonder if that’s why they wrote stories about him? Jesus came face to face with the divine within himself and did not place the gift in storage, did not run from fear of the call, but sat with the gift, listened to it and humbly and boldly allowed it to take on his flesh.
The story still has power, but it depends on us. That’s the way grace works, it’s offered freely but requires a response. What will we do with the gift? Will we keep it as a piece of history from which we can distance ourselves with the passage of time and the elevation of Jesus as a unique religious hero? Will we keep it as an object of study, a remant of an ancient people, distancing ourselves from the story with analyisis and thoughtful conclusions? Will we live the story, will we here the invitation to awaken to God dwelling in us. Will we hear that God taking the risk to show up in creaturely flesh flesh is our call to partner with the Holy One, a call to embody our deepest values and beliefs, to walk the way of love in our daily lives in the humility and audacity of a babe born in a feeding trough to poor parents in a tiny country ruled by an empire? Will we claim our birthright as children of God?
Friends, that is the story that never
gets tired, the story that urges it’s telling and it’s embodiment year after
year. Christmas is really about
the possible not the impossible.
Christmas is about the love and intimacy that God wants with us,
bridging the gap betweeen the divine and the creation. The birthing isn’t done, the call is to
be re-born again and again and in that statement, lies the deepest faith and
the hope for God’s creation.
Thanks be to God. Merry
 Parker Palmer, http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/index.php?ct=store.details&pid=V01023