December 25, 2010
Let us pray. Most gracious God, for our salvation you were born and manifested in a human body: Help us see your likeness in women and men of all nations, races, and cultures, that we may rejoice in our diversity and live together as one; in the name of your Child, our Savior Jesus Christ, gene to us this holy day. Amen. (St. Athanasius)
People spend a lot of time waiting: we wait for services to be delivered, we wait in line to be served at the post office and the bank, and we wait for next year, hoping perhaps it will be better, and perhaps a bit fearful that it won’t be. “Waiting for the other shoe to drop” is an expression of dread, and one on the lips of many who worry about their jobs, their futures, and their health.
Our culture tries to address all this with panaceas, things to make waiting more tolerable. We have things we can buy to wear in our ears so we can listen to music while we wait, we have online banking so we can avoid the lines, and nowadays we can even print our post office postage online. Waiting for the other shoe to drop is countered by shopping, eating, dieting, exercising – the list is inexhaustible. Then why are so many of us anxious and cynical?
By now most of us just want a little peace and quiet to savor Christmas, even if you, like me, have not yet finished the to-do list. But then, there’s the stuff to take back and exchange, the year-end financials to file, the decorations to take down and put away, the __________. You fill in the blank.
Wait just a second! What was that in the second reading this morning? “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy.”
That may not have been in any of our presents under the tree, but it truly is the greatest of gifts, something totally unearned, undeserved, and if this is the dropping of the other shoe, then so be it!
We don’t have to make ourselves happy. We don’t have to classify things as “fun” or “not fun”; we can see them all as part of the gift of life. We don’t have to solve the unsolvable or try the most expensive remedy. God gives to us as we are, for how we are, for what we are. God gives us a babe born in a manger not to mock, but to affirm our humanity. A babe born in a manger is hard to resist and opens our hearts to tenderness and awe – and there is nothing we can buy or bake that will do that in the same way.
An older gentleman that I know recently got a Christmas card from someone he barely remembered. Years ago the man had been a teacher in a tough school in a hardscrabble industrial community. One of his students told him he was going to quit school and go to work in the car factory because he could make good money. The man told him not to do it, that he would live to regret it. The boy’s father came to school the next day and scolded the man for interfering in family matters. The father told the man all the children in his family had gone to work and quit school, and they had all earned good livings.
But for whatever reason, this particular boy heeded the teacher’s advice and stayed in school and graduated. Later he got into some trouble – bad trouble that put him behind bars for a long sentence. While incarcerated, he wrote to his former teacher and told him, “You were the only person who ever acted like you cared what happened to me, and I have remembered that even when life has been pretty ugly.”
That is the story of Jesus being born into the world. God is concerned about us, cares about us more than anyone else can.
Biblical scholars tell us that all of the titles ascribed to Jesus – Messiah, Prince of Peace, Anointed One – were all titles ascribed to the Roman emperor. The Emperor had to use raw and terrible military power to protect those titles. They were inscribed on Roman coins and statues as constant reminders, and legions were summoned to defend them when necessary.
Jesus’ entry into the world, proclaimed by the angels and witnessed by shepherds, is a soft entry that mocks the political order. The shepherds witness the babe, then tell a few friends, then disappear into history. But countless millions take up their witness and even today, this very day, some for the first time will realize it is true, that God born in the flesh is good news, the best news, and the most precious of gifts at Christmas.
There is so little we truly need once we embrace the babe in the manger, and even less that we want. Jesus becomes the answer to all our longings and hopes, the resolution of our dreams, and the failing of our fears. Time and again we are reminded of God’s goodness toward us, and the birth in the manger is the beginning of a journey that will end with the cross, the true sign of God’s outpouring to us.Well might we join with the angels and proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” Amen.