The Rev. Kathy McAdams
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Franklin, MA
Christmas Eve 2018 at 10pm
The birth of the Christ child brought something new to this world, a world that was deeply in need of something new, deeply in need of healing, a world that is still deeply in need of healing. This work of healing is not to be accomplished by God alone, but by God in partnership with ordinary people - ordinary people like Joseph and Mary, a middle-aged carpenter and his teenage bride; ordinary people like dirty mangy guys who sleep out in the fields with their sheep. And to show us that we ordinary people are necessary to God’s fulfillment of their promises, God became one of us. God was born to an ordinary woman, in an ordinary human body, in an ordinary town; for 30 years lived an ordinary human existence, then after a rather extraordinary 3-year ministry, died what was then an ordinary human death among thieves and low-lifes.
All of these ordinary human beings were able to accept their role in this drama, to understand that they played an important part in the action that God was carrying out in the world. The birth of the Christ child brought something new to this world, and these ordinary humans were able to see that, and were able to agree to be a part of it. Mary said, “yes” to the Angel Gabriel, and agreed to be the God-bearer. Joseph said, “yes” to the angel, and agreed to take Mary as his wife. The shepherds overcame their fear of the angels, and were able to recognize the birth of Jesus as a sign. And they didn’t stop there, they told others of what they had seen. That must have been a risky proposition.
The late Rev. Morton T. Kelsey, in his poem “Beatitudes for Shepherds and Stables”, writes:
Blessed are the shepherds, for they give hope to ordinary people like you and me; they tell us no one is excluded.
Blessed are the homeless, wandering, shepherd-like people, for they are free to follow immediately the angel’s call.
Blessed are the hungry and thirsty, the unhappy and the unloved, for God has seen their misery and sent divine love bodily into the world at Christmas to assuage their pain and loneliness and give them hope and even joy.
Blessed are those who know themselves so well they are aware of the demons lurking within them, for they are prepared to accept the angel’s invitation.
Blessed are the fearful, for the Christ child came to take away their fear and to give them the fullness of heaven’s love, now and forever.
Blessed are the stables, for in one of them the Christ child was born.
Blessed are those whose lives feel like stables and who want to live differently, for in them the Christ can be born.
Blessed are the persecuted and the heavy-laden, those in sorrow, trouble, need or adversity, for creative love seeks to enter their hearts and be born in them.”
All of these ordinary humans participated in God’s plan. They became vehicles of God, and they made it possible for a savior to be born for us - a savior who promises peace, justice and righteousness. A savior who not only promises these things, but is capable of fulfilling these promises, with our help.
God sang a new song to us in the cries of a newborn infant. And in this new way of relating to us, God offers us the opportunity to sing a new song to God - to see God differently, to speak to God differently, to have a new kind of relationship with God. You have to admit that we relate much differently to an invisible, immortal, all knowing and all-powerful God, than we do to a helpless infant. From the time we were kicked out of the Garden of Eden, till the day that baby Jesus was born, no one had ever seen God. Sure, God revealed themself in pillars of cloud, burning bushes, beams of light, dreams, and even messengers called angels - all things that represented God as spirit. But never since Eden had God revealed themself in a form that we could touch and talk with. And never had God revealed themself in a form that cried out for us to care for it, in such an intimate, vulnerable way. God breaks into our world in the most non-threatening of ways, as a vulnerable infant. God’s appearing to us in the form of a child is cause for us to consider what new song we might sing to God, and what new song God might be singing to us. I wonder if, in relating to us this way, God is inviting us to reveal our vulnerability - to God and to each other. While we know God to be omnipotent and powerful, I don’t know of any doctrine that claims him to be impermeable. I believe God is affected by us, and by our actions, just as we are affected by God. That’s the nature of relationship - we have an effect on each other. God is vulnerable to us - to our love, to our rejection, and to our hate.
The placement of Titus in the Christmas lectionary suggests that the mere appearance of Christ in the world is our salvation: “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.” We tend to think of the events of Holy Week and Easter, Christ’s death and resurrection as those that lead to salvation, but Titus suggests that it is the birth of Jesus, the coming of God into the world, that saves us.
The angels tell the shepherds, “I bring you good news. Your savior is here. A baby in a manger will be the sign for you that God has come to you and is granting you salvation.” Jesus was born our savior; our healer. He comes to us as one of us so that he can get close to us - close enough to touch us; close enough to heal us. To be whole, unbroken, to be truly ourselves, without fear, to be completely in relationship with God, without fear, this is healing, wholeness; this is salvation. May something new, something healing, be born in your hearts this day, and may this Christmas season be filled with light, justice and peace forevermore.