- December 24, 2017
- 09:00 PM
Sermon for December 24, 2017 (Christmas Eve, Year B)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: Titus 2:11-14; Psalm 96; Luke 2:8-20
Title: God as a Child
O good and faithful friends: welcome to our great and joyful Feast! Whether you have been carefully watching and waiting through all the days of Advent, or whether you have no idea what Advent is even about – it makes no difference now.
Because now the sun has set, the new day has begun, and our Christmas celebration is finally here!
Once again ALL the world is celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. And we are invited to come and to keep the feast.
But, first, let us remember once again why we are here.
Why is THIS birth so important? Why is THIS birth remembered so much more than any other that has ever happened?
Because, dear friends, something happened on the night that Jesus was born which never happened before and will never happen again!
But, before we go any further, I need to ask all of you a question: is there anyone here tonight who is a human being? Any humans here tonight? Please, go ahead and raise your hand.
Really? Well, congratulations to you! Because, guess what? You won the lottery! The cosmic lottery! It’s true!
Now, I’m sure that most of you do not stand up every morning and say, “Thank God that I’m human!”
But you should! Yes, yes, of course, we humans have lots of problems. And the truth is that most of us want to be something more, something better!
That’s why people are so enamored with superheroes. They represent what humans could be without all of our flaws and our frustrating limitations.
But we don’t need to become superheroes. We do not need to be anything other than what we are.
Because God became human. The Word became flesh. God embraced humanity in this Holy Child of Bethlehem, and the world has never been the same.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his famous (and controversial!) “Divinity School Address”, suggested that Jesus was the One who understood the value of humanity:
“Alone in history [Christ] estimated the greatness of man. One man was true to what is in you and me. He saw that God incarnates himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of his World. He said, in this jubilee of sublime emotion, “I am divine. Through me, God acts; through me, [God] speaks. Would you see God? [Then] see me” . . . He was the only soul in history who has appreciated the worth of [humanity].”
That was back in 1838. But today we live in an age of technology that is quickly racing to overcome – and even to erase! – all of the limits and the difficulties of being human.
If your joints no longer work, we can replace them with new ones.
If you can’t attend a family wedding due to distance, then virtual reality will allow you to experience it firsthand.
If your DNA has a flaw that is likely to lead to a problem, then we will find a way to change the basic building blocks of your cells.
Whatever shortcomings or problems affects humanity, you can bet that someone somewhere is right now developing a technological fix.
And coming soon are new therapies that promise to extend human life far beyond anything that humans have ever known.
Now, I ask you: why are we so obsessed with becoming more than human? It’s as if we are always trying to escape from being human, to break off these human bonds of frailty.
And yet tonight the world celebrates the fact that God became human, that God willingly and freely chose THIS human life!
Sometimes the birth of Jesus is presented as if it were some kind of disguise, or some kind of theater.
As if the Second Person of the Trinity was waiting in the heavenly realm until just the right time to pretend to be born and pretend to be a baby and pretend to grow up and pretend not to be all-knowing and all-powerful while living in Nazareth. And then pretend to suffer and die so that he could pretend to come back to life again.
That is how the story of the Incarnation is often presented, and this is how many people think of the story.
But this isn’t it at all! This birth is no act. There is no pretense in God. It’s the real deal.
Do you know that it took the church hundreds of years to figure out what all of this meant? Eventually, after lots of debate and fights and meditations and sermons and writings – after hundreds of years, eventually the church came to the conclusion that this Incarnation thing was no joke. It was no theater. It was no charade.
Instead, God chose to embrace all of the limitations of being human. All of them!
Which means that if Mary did not feed this baby born in Bethlehem, or if Joseph did not change his diaper, then God suffered real pain.
To say that God became human means that humanity is worth the pain! With all of its limitations, all of its trouble, all of our endless drama and pain and suffering.
Somehow, in this vast universe, the One who gave birth to each and every star has considered humanity and said, “They are worth it! This expression of life must be redeemed, preserved, kept from destroying itself! They must be set on the right path, and I myself will do it.”
My friends: what was it that the angels said to the shepherds in that dark field at night?
“This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
A child. A human child. THIS is what God became. THIS is what God embraced.
And so the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
My friend: let’s celebrate the birth of this Holy Child! And let’s remember that what God did is no joke, no act. His birth means that all of our births – and all of our lives – are fully redeemed in the love of God.
What an amazing story! What a cause to celebrate! Joy to the world! And to all humanity! For the Lord has come. Amen.