Fleeing to Egypt

“Fleeing to Egypt”

Matthew 2:13-21 – December 29, 2019

Matt 2-12 Flucht_nach_Aegypten_Meuhlhausener_Altar_Bamberger_Dom

I have been puzzled by the week between Christmas and New Year for some years. Yes, it’s still the holiday season, and yes, lots of people are on reduced schedules, or even taking the whole week as a holiday. But, I realize some people need to keep working regular shifts, to do necessary things that keep the wheels of society rolling and things continuing to happen. As we all know, holidays do not last forever…or sometimes even for a few days.

Remember back to last Sunday? The fourth Sunday of Advent? I talked about the shepherds, and how they got ready to visit the Baby the Angel told them about. Only thing—the shepherds couldn’t afford to take a lot of time off to see the Baby. I doubt whether they could even take more than a few hours, at most a day, to go and see the Baby in Bethlehem. And, the angels in the angel chorus? The angels had gone back to heaven in an instant. They had already left before the shepherds even decided to check out this fantastic story.

Between last Sunday and today, Christmas happened. We sang “Away in a Manger,” “Silent Night” and lit our candles around the Advent wreath. But, what does our Scripture reading say happened? How on earth did we get from shepherds adoring the Baby at the manger to the horrible reading we had just now, from Matthew chapter 2?

Thank goodness for the Angel, again! Thank God the Angel came to Joseph—again—in a dream, and told him to flee to a different country, with Mary and the Baby. The Holy Family was fleeing for their lives; or, at least, for their Baby’s life.

Today, when young couples here in the United States have a new baby, even a toddler, usually the extended family, good friends, and often the church family members gather around in a fond shower of gifts, sometimes bringing dinner or other good things to eat. Somehow, I doubt whether Joseph, Mary and the Baby Jesus had much of a baby shower before Mary went into labor. Our reading from Matthew 2 tells us a whole lot more serious than just not having a baby shower. Matthew describes an evil, manipulative king who was extremely jealous and anxious. He worried about attacks against his power structure.

From all accounts of Herod and his life and reign, he was a tyrant. Looking at writings from contemporary authors of that period, Herod was cruel and bloodthirsty. He was also two-faced, as we can see from a few verses before our lectionary passage today, from his response to the Magi. He sent the Magi to Bethlehem, and requested that they come back after they find this “King of the Jews,” because Herod wished to “worship” this King as well.

I have a pretty good idea of exactly what Herod wished to do to the baby Jesus from what follows. What is even worse is King Herod has demanded that his soldiers go and slaughter all infant and toddler boys in and around Bethlehem. This reading of the slaughter of the innocents? Why this massive horror and carnage to happen? Why now? Isn’t it still the holidays? Didn’t we just celebrate Christmas? We just sang “O Little Child of Bethlehem” just a few days ago.

Sure, those soldiers were military men. I know those in the military have to do some really unpleasant things. But, ordered to kill babies and toddlers? Well. Just look who was giving that horrible order: the cruel, bloodthirsty King Herod.

We can see why the Holy Family left Judea. They fled. They became refugees.

As I have been thinking about this Scripture reading from Matthew 2 this past week, I wondered about the term “refugee.” I know many people use this term, not only in this country, but also internationally, and some of these people are misusing the term. What is the actual definition of the term “refugee?”

For this definition, I went to the United Nations website, where the UN describes and defines a great many words and terms that concern millions of people, worldwide. According to the migrant and refugee section of the official website, “Refugees are persons who are outside their country of origin for reasons of feared persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order and, as a result, require international protection.” [1] From everything described in Matthew chapter 2, that definition of refugees describes the Holy Family all too well. Sadly, too well.

As one of my favorite commentators Carolyn Brown said, “It would be nice if everyone had gone happily home and watched Jesus grow up safe and secure with angels watching over him and no problems for anyone.  But it didn’t work that way.  It doesn’t work out that way for any of us.  We all have all sorts of problems to worry about and work on.” [2]

Here in the United States, people are sometimes forced to relocate or are made homeless because of natural disasters or floods or fires – which certainly are on the UN’s list in their definition of the term “refugee.” We know about these refugees, or migrants.

A young man was shot on the Howard St. El platform just a few weeks ago. He had moved from the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s south side to Rogers Park, because he did not want to be actively recruited by gangs. And—he was shot in the back, execution-style, by a rival gang member. He tried to migrate. He tried to get away from feared persecution, conflict and violence by moving to the relatively safer area of Rogers Park.

This is not the sweet story of Christmas we heard on Christmas Eve. This wasn’t the gentle story of a young woman giving birth to a Baby, and angels giving a birth announcement to shepherds, including the words “Peace on earth, and good will to all!” Where—we heard about God breaking into the world, coming to be Emmanuel, God-with-us.

The narrative from Matthew 2, though jarring and heart-breaking, helps us know that God is truly with us. Just look at the state of the world, and the sad—even violent situations people encounter all over. Day in and day out, the days are dark more often than not. People like this young man from Englewood get shot, and stabbed. So many feeling separations of race and class and religion and so many other dividing lines.

Yet—nothing surprises God. Yes, the Holy Family did need to run away to escape from Herod the King. “So God understands when we and our families have scary problems.  God is with us and loves us not just when things are Christmas Eve wonderful but also when nothing is going right.  Right now, on the Sunday after Christmas, that is really good to know.  Christmas is over for this year.  But, soon it’s back to school [and work] and all the old problems and people we will struggle with.  It’s a good time to remember that God was with Jesus and His family in the peaceful stable AND on the scary road to Egypt.” [3]
            He is able to not only help us through our times of trouble, but also to be God with us. Jesus is there with us, even though homes are destroyed and children are slaughtered. Jesus is there with us through all the pain and suffering, through all the wailing and lamentation. We have His word on it. Jesus said “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” What a precious promise! What a wonderful Christmas gift! Jesus is our Emmanuel, God with us.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://refugeesmigrants.un.org/definitions

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/11/year-first-sunday-after-christmas.html

Worshiping with Children, Christmas 1, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2013.

[3] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

The Light Will Shine!

“The Light Will Shine!”

John 1 1-14 word cloud

John 1:1-5 – December 1, 2019

Light versus dark. Good versus evil. The powers of the Light pitted against the powers of Darkness. And, think about the Good Witch, all shiny and light, in the Wizard of Oz, as opposed to her sister the Bad Witch, all black and dark. Think of movies, and television, and fairy tales, and folk tales. All of the stories we have ever heard tell us the same thing. Everyone knows the good guy wears a white hat, and the bad guy wears a black hat.

The Gospel Scripture reading this morning comes from the first chapter of John, John 1:5, where we are told “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” But, what if we do not think of this contrast as a good versus evil set-up? What if we don’t think of this as a sharp duality, where light (or, white) is good, and dark (or, black) is bad? What then?

I know we have a number of people here in this congregation who are familiar with several languages. I suspect you are aware that sometimes it is a challenge to translate from one language to another with exactly the right words. Sometimes, the words and phrases of one language just do not quite fit the other language. So, you approximate. You give it your best effort, and try hard. But, translation is not an exact, word-for-word science. Sometimes, translation is more of an art.

That is the case with our verse from John 1, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” The Greek word translated “overcome” here in the New International Version of the Bible sometimes is translated as “did not comprehend.” As in the New American Standard Version of the Bible: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

Remember, in the beginning? Way back, at the beginning of creation? John hearkens back to that beginning right here. He starts his Gospel with verse 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

God made everything that was made. All things! Yes, God made the light. Yes, God made the dark. And – this concept may blow our minds, but at the end of Genesis chapter 1, God called everything in creation very good. Everything! That includes light and dark!

John uses a comparison, a metaphor, comparing “the Light of all people” to the darkness, which could not comprehend the Light. I have heard this comparison lifted up by preachers and commentators many times in the past. Yes, it’s a vivid concept, that of Light and Dark. In fact, Jesus Himself uses this metaphor when He says “I am the Light of the world.” But, that is a whole different conversation, in a different place.

I want us to reflect about creation, and how God made all things in the beginning. God created Light and also Dark. What is more, God called them both very good!

But, wait a minute! What about all that stuff from movies, and from television, and fairy tales? What about all we have ever learned about light being good, and darkness bad?

People often thought that meant Jesus banishes the darkness. But actually, the darkness is still present. Jesus works in the midst of them both. Dark and light coexist together.

Let’s think more deeply about the dark; it is good for a lot of things. How about nocturnal creatures? Bats, opossums, cats, and owls all like the night. There are many creatures who have a thriving life in the hours between dusk and dawn. And, God made all of these creatures.

What about many baby mammals? Puppies, kittens, horses, elephants, mice, and dolphins. All of them are mammals, and all of them gestate in darkness. So often, mama animals go to a dark, quiet place to give birth. Think of a dog or cat looking for an enclosed closet or a cupboard where they can give birth to their puppies or kittens.

Darkness is not always frightening! Sometimes, the dark can be friendly and warm. As humans, we gestate in darkness, too. Comforting, calming, friendly darkness.

But, some people might still be puzzled. What did the prophet say in our Scripture reading this morning? From Isaiah 9:2, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” That sure sounds like light versus dark, good versus bad.

I would like to suggest that the prophet is using a similar metaphor, using light to express hope. Hope and goodness given by God.

What if people twist such verses, and cause them to mean painful and twisted things? Like, for instance, believing that darkness is always bad and evil—and dark or black. And sometimes, some people have the false belief, the mistaken assumption that people with lighter skin are better or more loved by God than those with darker skin. This false belief is untrue, and so damaging to so many people!

When I was a child in Sunday School, we learned the chorus “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” I wonder, do you know it, too? “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Just reminding everyone: Jesus was Jewish, and a person of color, too.

I have a good friend, a fellow pastor. He does not live here in the Chicago area any more, but moved to Oregon about a year and a half ago. He was born with sight, but due to a progressive eye disease, he lost all of his sight shortly after he turned 30 years old. He’s now in his early 60’s. and has been completely blind for decades. Is my pastor friend somehow “bad” because he is blind? Or, because he is always in the dark? No, light is not necessary for my friend to live life to the full and to pastor a church and love his children and grandchildren.

God made all things. God made all people. Everything God created, both the bright light of day and the darkness of night, are called “very good.” We have God’s word on it, from Genesis 1:31. What is more, all people—each person—is equally beloved, equally created for good, and equally made in the image of God.

When we believe that black-and-white thinking that light is only good, and darkness is only evil, we miss so much in life. Nocturnal animals, gestating babies, seeds growing in the ground. All of these are living life in the warm, friendly, nurturing darkness. Think about the good gifts of God, giving us both bright, radiating light and comforting, friendly darkness.

John chapter 1 hearkens back to that first chapter of Genesis. Yes, in the beginning God did create everything, and every person, and God called it all very good. Including the light, and including the darkness.

We can look forward to the Light of the world, God coming to earth in the Baby Jesus. We can reflect on the growing Baby inside of Mary His mother, gestating in the warm, friendly darkness of her womb. And, we can praise God for the birth of that Baby in Bethlehem, God with us, Emmanuel.

Alleluia, amen!

 

(I would like to thank illustratedministry.com for their Advent devotional “An Illustrated Advent for Families: In Light & Darkness.” For this sermon, I have borrowed several ideas and quotes from Week 1 of this devotional. Thanks so much!)

For further information, see info@illustratedministries.com

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

“Happy Birthday, Jesus!“

 

Shepherds adore the Christ child, Jan de Bisschop

Luke 2:4-15 – August 4, 2019

What events are particularly meaningful to children? Birthdays, of course. The birthday is not only a marking of the day the child was born, but is often (in this society, at least) a day for parties, presents and special things like ice cream and cake. And, children naturally love to go to birthday parties, too. No wonder many people celebrate birthdays as something really special.

Our two Scripture readings this morning both tell about the birthday of a really special Someone: the Baby born in Bethlehem, the baby Jesus. Except—I do not think it was common to celebrate birthdays with a birthday cake in those days.

When Isaiah wrote his prophecies six hundred years before the birth of Jesus, he was writing to a contemporary situation, it is true. But there is another situation, another prophetic announcement that people have marked from that point on. But, more about that birth announcement in a few minutes.

Yes, it is common for small children to concentrate on the baby Jesus and his birthday on Christmas Day. But, why did Jesus get born to a teenage girl in Bethlehem, anyhow? Why was this birth announcement made by the prophet six hundred years before the event?

For some of the answer to that question we need to go all the way back to the beginning, in the book of Genesis.

We know that God created the world, and God made plants and animals and humans. God created time and the seasons and great beauty and complexity in this marvelous world, and called it all good. In fact, very good. But, we know what happened. Sin happened, and entered into this world. Sin has caused tons of evil, heartache, misery, hatred, and disaster. We all know how much sadness and badness there are in this world.

Yesterday, in a shopping mall in the city of El Paso, Texas, we saw a horrific example of evil. The young, white shooter took the lives of twenty people, and did horrible harm to the lives of countless more. Is there a more visible example of corrosive sin and evil that can be shown to us? Sadly, violent situations such as this happen all too often, with tragic repercussions.

Yet, God the eternal Son, the second person of the Trinity, saw this horrible, pervasive evil of sin and nastiness and hatred that entered into the world, and knew its sweeping, widespread effects. God the eternal Son emptied Himself of all Godhood, and became a tiny, helpless baby human.

As the Apostles Creed tells us, We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary. Every time we say those words of that ancient—most ancient of creeds, we affirm those eternal truths. Are many Christians aware that in repeating this creed, we regularly proclaim the Good News of Christmas, the miracle of God the eternal Son breaking into human history and becoming a tiny baby?

As we examine that ancient birth announcement from Isaiah chapter 9, we reflect on those words that reverberate deep in the soul. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The music that George Frederick Handel used in his oratorio “Messiah” for this chorus ring in my mind whenever this Scripture passage is read.

Yes, God the eternal Son was born as a baby, just as this verse from Isaiah says. But not just a human child, but much, much more! Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. This baby was sent into the world to change the world. This baby was sent into the world as the Prince of Peace, to bring peace to a troubled world and dispirited people. This baby was mighty to save.

It is sort of a challenge to communicate all of that difficult, mind-blowing stuff about sin and salvation to little children. I can well understand how the ease of having a birthday party for the Baby Jesus would appeal to them instead. Small children understand about birthdays and birthday parties. That is within their experience. And, we certainly tell them about the Baby Jesus being born in Bethlehem at Christmas.

As we move to the second chapter of Luke, this narrative of the Nativity is so familiar. Is there anything here we haven’t looked at before?

We see Mary and Joseph, check. Knocking on lots of doors in Bethlehem, check. Refusal at an inn, but welcomed to a stable, check. We examine this next important part of the story. “There were shepherds in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Suddenly, an angel appeared to them and said, ‘Don’t be afraid! I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be known to all people.”

While Mary and Joseph were busy with the birth of their firstborn Son, our scene shifts to the shepherds on the hills surrounding Bethlehem. We are familiar with this next part of the story: shepherds guarding their sheep at night, and the heavenly angel breaking onto the scene.

Does anyone remember what we just looked at from the book of Isaiah? The Lord God had a wonderful birth announcement, given a few hundred years beforehand. But, this is the time! This is when the prophet was talking about. The angel told the shepherds that a newborn Savior had arrived. He is not only a Savior, He is Messiah, too, with everything that that means to an oppressed, downtrodden people in an occupied country. Believe me, Rome was not exactly a gentle group of overlords. No, the Roman empire was an oppressive regime. I can just imagine how welcome this heavenly announcement was! God-sent, indeed.

Plus, the name given to this special Baby by the angel Gabriel had great meaning. Mary and Joseph did not go to a bookstore and pour over the selection of names in a baby book to help them name their son.  If we go back a chapter to Luke 1, the angel who tells the teenager Mary she is going to bear the Messiah also tells her what His name will be: “You will have a son, and you will call His name Jesus.” In Hebrew, the name Jesus means “the Lord saves.” That is just what the angel tells the shepherds—”Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

What a build-up for this heavenly event! Imagine, repeated birth announcements for this wondrous Child born in Bethlehem. Is it any wonder that this was the biggest, best birthday ever? If we go back to our first example, with the children having a party celebrating someone’s birthday, we could have a humdinger of a huge birthday bash, indeed.

Happy birthday, Jesus! We can celebrate, because Jesus came into the world on that Christmas Day. We can celebrate, because there is no other name given among people that can save us from our sins. Praise God, we have a Savior, indeed!

Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

We See Your Salvation

“We See Your Salvation”

Luke 2-30 Simeon words

Luke 2:22-40 (2:30) – December 31, 2017

Many of us had a marvelous celebration last week for the Christmas holidays. Gatherings with extended family and friends, special parties and programs, holiday concerts and pageants, often ending with the caroling around the fireplace. And the stockings hung with care, and mounds of gaily wrapped presents around the Christmas tree.

But, too soon after the grand holiday, the main event, and the wonderful days of celebrations, everything is ended. The crumpled wrapping paper is in the trash, the many leftovers packed in the refrigerator. The unexpected visitors have gone home, and we have returned back to the plain old mundane, ordinary routine. What happens now? What next?

Mary and Joseph might have been wondering a similar thing. After the marvelous birth announcement given to the shepherds by the chorus of the heavenly hosts, and after the impromptu visit by the shepherds and others to the newborn Baby in Bethlehem, what happens now? What next? Great question! What does happen?

Reading from the second chapter of Luke: “22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took the child to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

We are told that Mary recuperates and takes the time prescribed for mothers of a first-born son from Leviticus chapter 12. Then, she and Joseph bring Jesus up to the Temple for the Child’s dedication. The Mosaic Law Code is very specific about what needs to be done for a first-born son: forty days after the birth, the parents of the newborn son take their Child to present Him before the Lord.

Now that the grand celebration of the birth is over, Mary and Joseph get down to the ordinary, everyday matter of living. The main way they do that is to follow the laws and rules prescribed for them in the Mosaic Law Code. The laws and rituals of the Jewish people were ancestral traditions. It’s pointed out that these “are a reminder to [the parents] that Jesus is born in the context of the covenant established between God and the people Israel.” [1]

The Jewish people were supposed to be sensitive to the Holy God, and this rite of purification in the Temple is a reminder of that relationship to God. “One way a woman encounters the holy is through the miracle of giving birth. It is a holiness which belongs to and describes the natural rhythm of life.” [2]

Our Gospel writer Luke breaks in right here with a new figure in his narrative. A cameo appearance by a guest star, if you think of things in terms of television or movies, in the birth narrative of Luke chapter 2. We meet the older man Simeon, and we find out about his backstory.

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for Him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took Him in his arms and praised God.”

It is similar to what we covered in the weeks of Advent this year. In the midweek bible study during December, we studied the genealogy of Jesus from Matthew chapter 1. Pretty dry stuff, all of those names, and all of those “begats.” So-and-so the son of the other guy, the grandson of such-and-such. Genealogies were extremely important to the Jewish people, because keeping an orderly and exact account of who was related to whom helped cement the lines of ancestry and inheritance.

Except—the genealogy of Jesus had some surprises. Four women were mentioned in Matthew’s account. We studied the backstory of each of those four women, and found out exactly why each one was included in the genealogy of Jesus. In Luke’s birth narrative, he tells us some backstory, so we can find out exactly what the godly man Simeon is doing here.

Luke tells us that Simeon is called “just and devout,” and was waiting for the dawning of the kingdom of God – “the consolation of Israel”. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. He now sees the fulfillment of this promise. In the power of the Spirit, he sings a song of praise and utters a prophecy concerning Jesus. [3]

What a marvelous expression of faith and trust in God comes from Simeon. He sings to God: “29 “Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, You may now dismiss Your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, 31 which You have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” 33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about Him.”

Sizeable words spoken about someone so small. Here we have the baby Jesus, and His mother and adoptive father did marvel at such weighty words!

However, Simeon is not finished yet. He prophecies after this wonderful expression of song. “34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, His mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Serious, solemn words, indeed. Simeon has waited for his whole life for this very moment. After years and decades of expectation and longing, the Messiah has finally arrived. What is more, Simeon spontaneously blesses Mary and Joseph, too, along with Jesus.

Simeon was right there, at the beginning, with Jesus as a baby. He gave witness that Jesus was as foretold, by many prophets throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus had the greatest future, here at the beginning of the Greatest Story Ever Told. “We are left in anticipation to watch as the Child grows strong, filled with wisdom and blessed with the favor of God.” [4]

Where are each of us in our understanding of Emmanuel, God being with us? Is this narrative from Luke just a fairy story, suitable only to be shared with children every December at the holidays? Or, is it more than that? Have we heard the Good News from the angels and are waiting for more assurance, more evidence that the Messiah has come to earth?

The faithful servant of God, Simeon, was waiting at the Temple for years.  He was waiting and hoping for the Messiah, the chosen One of Israel. When we come to church today, do we expect to have an encounter with the Messiah? We fall on our knees with those who came to worship. Jesus has his arms open wide to welcome all who would come to Him. Come to Jesus, today. Amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=207

Commentary, Luke 2:22-40, Holly Hearon, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2008. 

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/studyg/christmas1bg.html

“Jesus Grew in Wisdom and Stature,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.  

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=207

Commentary, Luke 2:22-40, Holly Hearon, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2008

The Christmas Story

“The Christmas Story”

zp_ethiopian-nativity-scene-painted-in-a-traditional-style

John 1:1-18 (1:14) – Christmas Eve night, December 24, 2017

The holiday season is coming to a grand crescendo. Tonight is Christmas Eve. Tonight is a wonderful service at our church, and lots of warm and fuzzy feelings. Christmas carols sung, special music at the service, candles lit, closing with “Silent Night.” Remembering the Light that has come into the world at Christmas. Glory, hallelujah!

Yes, all of those things, and more, are wonderful. Special. One of a kind, even.

But, Father Henri Nouwen’s words bring me up short. “Somehow I realized that songs, music, good feelings, beautiful liturgies, nice presents, big dinners, and many sweet words do not make Christmas.” [1]

So, what does make Christmas?

I feel like Charlie Brown at the Christmas pageant rehearsal. “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” I know Linus responds, “Sure, Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” He then recounts the Nativity narrative from Luke 2. Except—it doesn’t penetrate into Charlie Brown’s head. Yet.

The Light of all the world—of all the universe—born as a Baby in Bethlehem? The cosmic Word, the divine Logos, made human flesh as a Baby? That just doesn’t make sense to me, either, sometimes. Sometimes, it can’t penetrate into my head, either.

There is a disconnect here. I know I have difficulty believing in the miracle of the Incarnation—sometimes! But, God wanted to bridge that cosmic chasm between divinity and humanity. That is one huge reason why God became human, why God divested Godself of all divinity and became a tiny baby named Jesus.

Can we possibly listen to Linus reading the Nativity narrative from Luke chapter 2, and not feel the specialness of this heavenly visitation? As the lights come down on the stage and the spotlight shines on the narrator, is there anyone here who cannot be moved by the marvelous cry of the shepherds, telling everyone around Bethlehem about this super special Baby they found that night?

How unimaginable—that the God who created heaven and earth, who holds the universe between the span of the fingers on one hand, could empty Godself of all God-ness. How amazing. How miraculous. Jesus came to earth to journey with us, to walk and talk and sit by our sides. So we wouldn’t ever be separated from God. Never be alone again.

I realize that “Christmas is believing that the salvation of the world is God’s work and not mine….it is into this broken world that a child is born who is called Son of the Most High, Prince of Peace, Savior.” [2] Human feelings and sentiment only partly come into the equation. It is, in fact, something far beyond all feeling and emotion, as Fr. Nouwen says.

Yet, God wants all of me. God wants all of us. God wants to save all parts of us. Not just emotions and feelings. Not just our intellect and brain. Intellect, physicality, emotions, and feelings, and all. The salvation of the world is, indeed, God’s doing.

As Christmas comes again, we can say “Thank God.” Or is it, “Thank You, God.” Thank God for the birth of Jesus. Thank God for loving us so much that You sent Your Son.

Thank You, God, for sending Jesus, the Word made flesh. Sometimes, a quiet “Thank You” speaks volumes.

 

[1] Advent and Christmas: Wisdom from Henri J. M. Nouwen (Linguori, Missouri: Redemptorist Pastoral Publications, 2004), 50.

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)