Christmas Eve 2017
Again, welcome and welcome friends. For the past several months we have used words of scripture as the focus of the sermons. After listening to these traditional texts outlining the coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us, our word is Incarnation. From the dictionary the definition is a “living being embodying a deity or spirit.” For Christians incarnation is no less than God dwelling in Jesus. God-with-us!
In her book Amazing Grace, Kathleen Norris writes: “(Incarnation) is the place where hope contends with fear.” That is the reality of the everyday struggles we face with fears great and small, can be met with hope that we can soldier on to the next daily round. Without such hope, life, well can be hopeless.
A colleague tells the story of a Christmas week phone call from a man who said he just needed a counselor. They met in the pastor’s office were the fellow shared his tale of woe. A decade earlier, in a fit of anger, he had beaten his wife to death. He was convicted of manslaughter and spent several years in prison. He and his wife had a daughter who was in the custody of his former in-laws. He had not seen her since that awful night a decade ago.
Now, as Christmas neared, his heart ached. Tears streaming down his face, he lamented, “I could pass her on the street and not even know who she was.”
What struck my friend, and me as well, however, was what the fellow said when he first walked into the office. Dramatically raising his arms, he said, “Now, preacher, let’s just leave Jesus out of this, OK?”
After the session, my colleague lamented “That’s the whole problem. He left Jesus out of everything.”
From our Christmas Eve perch tonight, looking back on 2017 it seems as if in many places “Jesus was just left out.” Political divisiveness, threats of war, increased famine and poverty, resurfacing racial hatred, religious and ethnic cleansing all seem to proclaim encroaching darkness.
Still we embrace the word Incarnation. We embrace it because the light of Christ, God-with-us overwhelms us with hope in the middle of whatever darkness shadows us. If the warring factions of WWI could pause and remember their humanity and that of their enemies, surely we, too, can take a break from whatever anger, division, and ugliness consume us. I recently read a fact about the Christmas Truce of 1914 that I had not paid attention to before: “On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus of war for the celebration of Christmas. The warring countries refused to create any official cease-fire, but on Christmas the soldiers in the trenches declared their own unofficial truce.”
It is moving that the truce was initiated by the trench soldiers. Those most impacted by the realities of war recognized, however briefly, a reality bigger than war and its causes.
The incarnation, the birth of Jesus, is bigger than whatever rancor consumes us, our family, our community, our church, our country, our world.
The incarnation, God becoming human for our sakes, compels us to see the humanity in others. God fully divine, becoming fully human enables us to see the image of God in, well, everyone.
Everywhere we look, everything we hear, everything we read, seemingly tells us we live in a broken, fractured world. Hearing and seeing it so frequently colors the way we see and hear everything and everyone around us. Yes, we are fallen, broken, damaged and sinful. But this night, in this darkness, we need to remember, we need to embrace the hope incarnation brings. The Messiah has come to save, to save the fallen, the broken, the damaged, the sinful. To save us. The people who walked in deep darkness have seen a great light; those who live in a land of deep darkness, on them the light has shined.
In her poem, First Coming, Madeleine L’Engle presents the hope, joy and grace incarnation brings to us this night:
He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady, and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.
He did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!