On Christmas Eve we have a service of “Lessons and Carols”. We read “lessons” from the bible. We hear the huge sweep of the biblical story, from the original blessing of all creation in Genesis, through the prophets’ imagination of a peaceful kingdom, of the wolves living with the lambs, all the way to the stories of the birth of Jesus. Tonight we get to see the big picture.
I love Christmas! We get to celebrate the birth of the person that means so much to us. In this church we want to be, and seek to be, followers of Jesus. We believe our whole life direction is about being on the journey, the Jesus-Path, as we call it. We try to live our lives according to the teachings and life-example of Jesus. So, of all the birthdays we could celebrate, this is right up there at the top.
Now, I am aware that there are lots of different people here tonight. I want to say I am so glad you came. I hope you feel welcome. I want to put you at ease and say that I am glad you want to celebrate Jesus’ birth with us, but I do not make any assumptions about what you think it all means. It is fine, whatever you are thinking. We are here to celebrate a birthday.
I know that there is a wide range of opinion about all these biblical stories. Lots of people take them completely literally, and if you do, you are welcome to. You are in good company.
But many others do not take stories of angels, stars, and wise men literally. I want you to know that we are comfortable with those opinions too. You too are in good company tonight.
Some even have issues with taking the concept of god as meaningful. I so wish I had time to have that conversation with you. There are many versions of god that I do not believe in, and nobody should believe in, in my opinion, but we have time only to briefly touch those concepts tonight. This is Christmas eve; I will not keep you long.
But here is what I would like us to reflect on tonight. Whether these stories of angels, stars, and shepherds, of wise men and incarnation, are literal or metaphorical, what do they mean?
Here is the meaning I take from them. For me, these are the story of God. How do you tell the story of God? What kind of story will help you get God right?
A Blessed Creation
For me, it starts with a Creator God who makes a good physical world and blesses it. Never mind the method of creation – six-day miracle or scientific evolution – either way. The story has to be that this world is good. It is wonderful. It is beautiful. It is awesome. It is complex and fragile, it is diverse and interconnected. This world is blessed. Life is a gift. I am so thankful to be alive in this amazing world.
The story of God, that the bible tells, says that people are special. Humans are made in God’s image, according to the Genesis story. Whatever that means, it has to mean that people, all people, men and women, without any exceptions, are blessed and significant. All people; all races, all languages, all cultures, all ways of being human, are worthy of dignity, should be treated with justice and fairness, without discrimination or oppression. That’s how the story starts. The original blessing.
A Hopeful Vision
The story of God includes a vision; a hope; a quest. It is for all that is wrong to be put right. God’s story is that the non-coercive God of Love has a dream of all people at peace, living in harmony. Violence is a distant memory. Reconciliation is the rule. That, is God’s good dream for the world. That, is what we feel lured and called to work for, to dream of, to live into.
God Embracing Humanity
The story of God, to be told well, includes God’s overwhelming love for us, for people. How can you tell this any more clearly than to tell a story of God becoming one of us, living life as we live it. Being a baby, born to real human parents, growing up among animals, earning his bread by the sweat of his brow. What does this mean other than that God embraces all of human life?
The story of God we tell is not the story of an aloof God up in the clouds looking at our lives from a distance. It is the story of an involved God who must at least be conscious as we are conscious; must at least be personal as we are personal; must at least have values, will, emotion and purpose as we do. Maybe more so; maybe so much more so that we cannot conceive God adequately, but certainly not less so.
God for the Vulnerable
But it gets even better. The story we tell is of God becoming a person in a particular way. Not a nobleman; not an aristocrat. Not a person of pedigree and grooming. No, our story is of a baby boy born to peasants. A baby born into poverty, without any special advantages. A baby born under times of political unrest and oppression.
Our story even includes a refugee episode in which his parents, for political reasons, have to flee across borders as immigrants. The story we tell suggests that the way to understand God is that God has a special place in his heart for the weak of this world. Typically the biblical stories have the triad of characters in these contexts. They are the widow, the orphan and the stranger, meaning, non-citizen.
So it is to illiterate shepherds that angels appear. They sing of the glory of God on display in a manger in a stable. God in a feeding trough, smelling cow breath. Now that is a picture.
That is our God; the one who walks through real life with us, down at dirt level, not ashamed or embarrassed at any aspect of our humanity.
Huge Story, Memorable Characters
This story of God is huge in its effects. God is no longer to be conceived as some wrathful judge, waiting for people to mess up so that he can punish and smite. This God does not dangle people over hell, this God experiences the hellish conditions that real life can include. This is Emmanuel, “God with us.”
And so this story has to be told with a cosmic star; it is just that huge. It has to include wise men from a far away foreign country because it is a story for the world, not just for one ethnic group. It is a story of gifts given to a king because Jesus will grow up to announce the kingdom of God as a present reality.
And Jesus will invite everyone to know God as Abba, as Father, the kind who is waiting for the prodigal to return, and when he does, throwing his arms of love around him, and putting the family ring back on his finger, and putting on a feast of welcome.
This is what God is doing; so this story has to have a virgin birth in it. It has to be a story of God inviting people to love; it cannot just be a prophet’s dream or a wishful thought of a pleasant, well-meaning sage. The story has to be, as it says in “Joy to the World,” a story of “God and sinners reconciled.” That is a God-thing. And that is joy to the World!
So this is the only way we know how to tell that story: a virgin birth with shepherds and angels, a star, wise men and gifts, a manger and peasants.
Take it all literally; or take it all metaphorically; either way, it means something huge to us.
This story invites us all to open our hearts and receive this love. God is love – that is what this story means. God loves each of us. That is what this story means.
God comes to us, not to lord it over us, but to be a part of our lives. To walk though the hard times with us, to constantly lure us to what is good, what is beautiful, and what is true. To love each other the way God loves us: completely, without discrimination. To be on the side of those God cares for the most; the weak, the vulnerable, refugees, children, poor people, people living under oppression.
That is what the Christmas story means to me. That is why we light lights. To us, this is the story of a light of love shining in the darkness. So that is why this story-telling evening has to end with each of us receiving the light, passing on the light, and leaving in the light of love. God bless you all!