Joy is Birthing Christ
A sermon based on Matthew 2:13-23
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio December 13, 2015
by Rev. Scott Elliott
I stood up here the last two holiday seasons and emphasized how much I love Christmas; and I gushed a lot about it. And if you read my newsletter note this month you know on this our third Advent season together that I am still gushing over Advent and the promise of Christmas and the way it influences our entire culture to turn to more love and be more loving.
For me this is the time of year we let the ocean God who is already surrounding us actually drench our souls. I get excited about it. It fills me with joy every year without fail!
The Holiday season is a time when we let love pop the protective bubbles we form out of things like busyness, self-centeredness, fear, intolerance and indifference–and when that the bubble shield is down we let love in and it soaks us through and through. It’s an amazing miraculous thing to be a part of–and I really do think it should and could last all year long.
I know I am, of course, not the only one who finds the season miraculous. Lots of famous people from many walks of life have weighed in. I went on line and “copy and pasted” a few quotes for us this morning.
Norman Vincent Peale observed that “Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”
Remember Dale Evans? She summed the whole thing up quite well when she said: “Christmas, my child, is love in action.”
Bob Hope the comedian who grew up in the Cleveland area hit a home run – as far as I am concerned– with his notion of Christmas. He said “My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others.” Then he added this great follow-up, “ Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?”
But Benjamin Franklin beat Bob Hope to that idea, way back in the 18th Century Dr. Franklin wrote “a good conscience is a continual Christmas.”
See, Bob Hope and Ben Franklin would agree with me about Christmas lasting all year. But for now, joyfully we can revel that we are presently in the love soaked time of Advent and the promise of Christmas.
The holiday season is a very special time of year. It shows us what we can be. It not only promises but shows us heaven can break in amongst humanity and we all are better for it. We follow more and more of Jesus’ simple teachings to love and we become more and more like Jesus during the holidays.
In one sense we re-enact the Nativity story as all of us are annually born anew amidst the muck and darknesses of the world and we let the Light of Love glow bright this time of year and the glory of the Lord shines around us.
Jesus began born as a baby, like all of us, and that birth led to the man who grew up to be the Son of God showing us His loving Way to follow, a way that leads to our becoming the hands and feet and voice of Christ, not just at Christmas, but all year long. C.S. Lewis perhaps best captured the theological and common Christological understanding of this phenomena. He wrote “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.”
Adjusting Lewis’ now sexist sounding words, it is perhaps better to say what he meant, like this, “The Son of God became human to enable humans to become sons and daughters of God.” See, the great joy of Christmas is that we learn through Jesus – God incarnate– how to incarnate God ourselves–and that’s the real magic, that we – all of us ordinary Joes and Marys– can actually bring into our lives and others lives more of the very presence of God. We can if we choose enflesh God on earth in our very beings. How awesome is that?
Meister Eckhart the 13th century mystic gave that idea a little different spin, ironically pushing a view much more feminist than C.S. Lewis. Eckhart spoke of Christ being “born of Mary, but also the Christ begotten in us.” (p. 346). Eckhart’s observation was that we humans not only have the capability to enflesh Christ, but to birth Christ.
Many of you have heard my somewhat pun-fully spin on that is to say that like Mary, we too conceive Christ, and it too is a conception which occurs alone between God and us. That metaphor stretches across religions and theologies, each person has a need to understand, to conceive God differently within her or his self.
For all of the hub-bub in Christianity about having the right belief, I’ve long noticed that, kinda like the snowflakes in our Holiday songs and images, no two Christians have the exact same beliefs.
Actually a better image than snow flakes is humankind, none of us are exactly alike. Our different DNA; our physiological and, psychological make up; our life experiences and environments create a conception of God –what we call Christ– that is always unique. Our birthing of God creates in some respects very different incarnations, but in one respect the God side of the equation is always identical. The DNA of God is steadfastly and forever compassion and care and desire for well being of creation. The God side genetic pull and call is always, always aimed toward peace on earth good will to all. That’s the Christmas bottom line . . . Right?
A lot of us moderns have trouble with the Christmas story as truth, we cannot believe that Mary was able to really conceive a child while a virgin. But that misses the point of the ultimate Truth in the story. Few of us should have trouble with the story as metaphor for all of our conception of Christ, which occurs alone between the individual and God.
Ultimately the conception of Christ IS always like, that between us and God alone. And when that conception happens we give birth to Christ in our lives and the lives of those we encounter. Through us and in us Christ is both birthed and personified. So in this other sense, we the Nativity story can be heard as a metaphor for us. That’s how it works. God incarnate is God in humanity. And we, we are that humanity. And God in the Nativity story we hear in Matthew is Emmanuel, which we are told literally means God is with us. That’s a Truth that is true all the time, everywhere. There is great joy in that because that Truth means nothing can defeat God being with us, because God is always here, everywhere.
And, as we are repeatedly told throughout the Bible, God’s love is steadfast and endures forever. There’s no two-ways about the meaning of that, God’s love has no strings attached. God. Love. Is. Unconditional. But, see, we must give birth to and enflesh God in our lives in order for God’s actions to occur in humanity–and for us to best see and experience the Divine, for love to abound in our lives.
Perhaps that is the difference between humankind and the rest of creation. God is soaking all creation like water in a sponge. But we humans get to choose to ooze that soaking out. We can – if we decide– to put God’s love more into play . . . or not.
The text today provides e comparison of such choices. Some do not put God into play, Rome, Herod and their henchmen surely do not.
But others do put God into play. The Magi in the verses just before the story in our lesson today, protect Jesus, Joseph and Mary protect Jesus. The people of Egypt accept the refugee family helping to protect and nurture them.
These Bible stories are not outdated in relevance to modern events either. If we listen they can help us understand Godly and un-Godly choices today. We can hear how the lesson Cliff read eerily mirrors happenings today where brutal evil behaving ways of people in power in a Mideastern country lead to people fleeing to save the lives of their children. Evil actions chase families out. The people in power clearly choose to not be an agent of “God oozing out.”
The refugee families, however, choose to be such agents, as do the leaders and people in the country’s that take them in. Those fleeing make a Godly choice to rescue themselves and their family from the brutal evil behaving ways of people in power who are literally making un-Godly choices.
Those who aid and accept the refugees like the Magi and the people of Egypt in our lesson also make Godly choices to help those fleeing survive. They choose to be God’s hands and feet and loving arms.
The Old Testament has a number of commandments requiring aliens be cared for. Leviticus 19(34) pretty much sums it up where God commands you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt . . .
If we think about it, in addition to our story from Matthew, the Bible is full of fleeing refugee stories, or strangers in strange lands. Abraham and Sarah are refugees in Palestine. So is Ruth. Jacob flees famine to Egypt.
Later Moses and the Hebrews flee Egypt in what must be the greatest refugee story known to humankind. Indeed that Exodus story is a sort of reverse model for our reading today.In Exodus Pharaoh was killing babies and Moses had to be saved. Eventually Pharaoh causes the Hebrews to flee their homeland of Egypt to take refuge in the desert and then in the Promised Land.
In Matthew the story is reversed. Herod (the Rome appointed King of the Jews) is reported to be killing babies and so Jesus has to be saved. Herod, Rome’s agent, caused Hebrews to reverse course and flee the Promise Land through the same desert to Egypt. And it is Egypt that ironically takes the refugees in. That is a huge part of the story, that Rome through it’s appointed King of the Jews, flipped the nation around from one that answered God’s call to care and tend to refugees to one that terrorized its own people making them refugees. Herod is the new pharaoh –and it is so bad that Egypt the arch villain in the Exodus story has even more compassion than Rome’s appointed King of the Jews. And Egypt now does what God calls God’s people to do, to love neighbors, “love the alien as yourself.”
We ought to be able to hear without much effort that the modern tales of refugees fleeing brutal evil behaving leaders of governments (and defacto governments) are not unlike the Bible stories of God’s people fleeing un-Godly tyranny to become refugees. The modern refugee situation resonates with Joseph and Mary’s AND Egypt’s efforts in Matthew to save Jesus’ life, especially when we consider that later in Matthew (25) Jesus’s “Parable of the Goats and Sheep” identifies the God oriented choices. noting that when “I was a stranger and you welcomed me . . .” And when asked how folks did this, he said “ just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” And, of course, Jesus goes on in that story to note that those who did not welcome the stranger failed to welcome Christ – and as a consequence would not inherit the reign of God. There is joy in the Matthew 25 story for those who tend to Christ in the stranger – they inherit the Reign of God.
And there is joy in the lesson today. As we listen in on the story we hear that even in the midst of the worse kind of evil action by Rome and Herod (and their henchmen) God is “Emmanuel,” there with the Holy family in the father and mother who listen to God and protect their child Jesus. And God is “Emmanuel” there with the people in Egypt who accept the refugees doing as the Bible commands loving the alien Holy Family as they love themselves.
The story proves, much like last week’s story, that God is always with us. That’s a Truth that is true all the time, everywhere. There is great joy in knowing that. Nothing, you see, can defeat God being with us. Nothing. And all the time God’s love is steadfast. It has no strings attached. It’s unconditional. And there is great joy in experiencing that love this time of year.
And there should also be great joy in knowing that we have the ability to choose to give birth and embody that love– Christ– in the world.
May we like Mary birth Christ into our lives and the lives of others.
May we have the courage all year long to choose to be God’s hands and feet and voice for refugees fleeing any manner of oppression whether they be like us, or like the Holy Family, or not.
COPYRIGHT Scott Elliott © 2015 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED