Friday, December 27, 2013

Sermon: "A Christmas Story"

“A Christmas Story”
December 24, 2013
Congregational Church of Amherst, UCC
Rev. Maureen Frescott

"I bring you good news of a great joy….for unto you a child is born this day in the city of David, and you will find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

This is good news.
This is good news to us because we know who that child is –
and we know the man he will grow up to be.
We know of his ministry and his teachings.
We know that he will heal the sick and feed the hungry.
We know that he will bring down the mighty and lift up the lowly.
And we know that even though he no longer walks this earth in human form, his message and his spirit lives on.
Guiding, comforting, strengthening and redeeming.

We hear the words “and unto you a child is born” and we see Jesus.
But to those shepherds standing out in that frozen field on a cold winter’s night 2,000 years ago, this GOOD NEWS brought to them by a heavenly messenger must have been confusing.
Why would the birth of a child in a far away town have any bearing on what happened in their lives?
How could a baby save the world?

They had heard the stories of the great Messiah who was expected to come and overthrow those in power and liberate the oppressed, but these were only stories.
These were tales that they told each other at night around the dying embers of the campfire.
Stories that were intended to give them a reason to get up in the morning,
to inspire them to go out and stand in a field tending sheep day after day, doing a job that only the lowest of the low were expected to do, one that sent them to bed hungry on more nights than they cared to admit.

The Messiah stories assured them that God had not forsaken them -
That they were not expected to lift the weight of poverty and oppression off their shoulders all on their own. The stories gave them hope that someone greater than they would set them free.

A Messiah is just what they needed – but they needed a full-grown Messiah – a King or a warrior – someone who had the power to step up and make their lives better, right here, right now. What were they to do with a baby?

A baby is small, and vulnerable and weak.
The very things a Messiah is NOT supposed to be.
The very things a GOD is not supposed to be.

Which is why even in our time, so many question why we Christians believe this fanciful tale of a God who chooses to come into the world not in a blaze of glory, not through an awesome display of power and strength, but chooses instead to slip into the world in the quiet of a winter’s night, in the form of a crying infant, something so small, so vulnerable, and so weak.
What an improbable and implausible tale.
Who would be crazy enough to believe it?

When I was a freshman in college, I took an introductory religion class, and when it came time to discuss the incarnation of Jesus one of the students raised his hand and asked how anyone possessing even average intelligence and a rational mind would believe such an implausible story. 

Why would an all-powerful and infinite God diminish itself by becoming a powerless and finite human being?
For that matter, why did God need Jesus? Didn’t God have the power to heal the world without having to become one of us to do it?

These are questions we may have asked ourselves or have heard others ask, in college classrooms, youth group discussions, or even in confirmation class.  For many of us, when we ponder the Christmas Story for the first time with a critical eye, we may have trouble believing it as well.

Perhaps God did not need to become one of us to heal the world.
Perhaps God didn’t need to experience firsthand what it’s like to feel pain, hopelessness and despair, in order to offer comfort to us.
But perhaps God understood that WE needed to know that God felt and understood our pain. Not as some distant deity, but as a God who is close enough for us to reach out and touch.

And the best way that God knew how to do that was to become one of us,
To experience what it feels like to be born kicking and screaming into this world, to feel the sudden chill of the night air and the warmth of a mother’s arms against bare skin,
to look up through clouded eyes and see the faces of joyful parents and curious strangers,
to be held in the supportive embrace of a loving community.

What a fantastic way to build a bridge between an infinite God and a finite human being.
As the infant Jesus, God depended upon us for food and shelter and even life. And in return, God gave up power and control so that we would know that God understands what it is like to feel helpless and weak.
What an amazing and unexpected thing for God to do.

And yes, what an improbable and implausible tale God has given us to tell.  
Who would be crazy enough to believe it?

Those shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night were crazy enough to believe it.
They went to Bethlehem, they saw the child, they believed the good news - that this baby was the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
And then they returned to their homes and told everyone within earshot that the wait was over, that the hope and light of God had been born into the world.

And 2,000 years later, we’re still telling this story, we’re still holding on to that hope, we’re still celebrating and sharing this good news of how a baby saved the world. 

What is the good news you are waiting to hear on this Christmas Eve?
Perhaps like the shepherds you are waiting for a messenger who will tell you that the tide has turned, that the day of vindication and hope has arrived, that God has come to set you free.

Or, perhaps you have secretly given up hope,
and you’ve convinced yourself that it is entirely up to you to bring the peace that your heart longs for, and God will not bother to intervene at all.

But isn't Christmas all about God intervening in our world?
Isn't Christmas about God telling us not to give up hope - because it’s not up to us to do this all on our own?
Isn’t Christmas about hearing and telling a story that is so implausible, it takes a leap of faith to believe it?

Once upon a time, in a far away land, a baby is born.
A baby that in many ways is just like you and me, and in many ways is the personification of who we are meant to be. 
This baby embodies the hope that each new life has to offer the world. 

This baby is born helpless just as we all are, but without the gift of human love and compassion, this baby will never grow to be the guiding light that many will come to rely on.
This baby does not come into this world alone.
This baby has guardians, teachers, companions and friends.
This baby is the expression of God’s love and grace entering into the world, and it is up to us to nurture it to fruition.

This baby is God incarnate.
This baby is God coming to change the world.

And I can’t think of a better story to tell on Christmas Eve.

Merry Christmas to us all, and Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment