Sermon preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Nativity of Our Lord – Christmas Day – December 25, 2010
Today we gather once again to hear the Good News of Jesus’ birth – the news that began quietly in a far away and lonely place and eventually shook the world and turned it upside down.
The story of messenger-angels, an unsuspecting young woman and her fiancé, dirty sheep-herders on a hill – the story is so familiar – too familiar, perhaps. It’s easy to brush it aside – to let the tinsel of cultural tradition take center stage and do little else than tip our hats for an hour or so to the holy family – to the news they heard and the news they share. But it’s worth taking another look – you see, it was God who had a new plan up his sleeve – it was God the Creator who wanted to be in touch again. That’s the beginning of the Good News. God had a plan.
As Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, “God [had] shouted to his creation from the sidelines, using every means he could think of, including floods, famines, messengers, and manna. He got into people’s dreams, and if that didn’t work he woke them up in the middle of the night with his whispering. No matter what he tried, however, he came up against the barriers of flesh and blood. They were made of it and he was not, which made the translation difficult. God would say, ‘Please stop before you destroy yourselves!’ but all they heard was thunder. God would say, ‘I love you as much now as the day I made you,’ but all they could hear was a loon calling across the water.”
Yes, God had a new plan – a risky plan to join his creation in a new and surprising way. No longer was God satisfied to send another prophet – to throw stones at the windows of the sleepy and self-content. God wanted more than a nod in his direction, he wanted connection – real, intimate and eternal connection to what he had made. It would take flesh and blood – it meant that God would become one of us.
God’s plan was costly and God’s plan was risky. God’s plan involved not only limiting himself to a human body, but it also meant putting himself in the hands of people who were not always that trustworthy. It meant being willing to give himself without condition – to humbly rely on the likes of you and me in hopes that the plan would succeed. God’s risky plan necessitated the partnership of human beings.
The event we celebrate today – the birth of the Christ child, heralded by a band of busy angels – involved just a few people in the beginning: there was Joseph – a man ready to settle down and build a life with the woman he loved and to whom he was engaged; Mary – a young but faithful woman, also ready to commit herself to another human being in marriage; and shepherds – a dirty bunch of wandering misfits.
While they had each been informed by heavenly beings of God’s new plan, they responded to the news in their own way.
I imagine Joseph – an upright and responsible man – taking a minute and then, as the news began to sink in, running off to find Mary, asking her for a family meeting – or more correctly – a “pre-family meeting:” “We’ve got to talk! What are we going to do? How will we save face? How in the world is this going to work?”
And we know what Mary’s response was to the heavenly messengers: “Okay, but this is going to take some time, I’ve got to think. I’ve got to be alone awhile. I need quiet, I need to dig deep; I need to keep breathing.”
The shepherds didn’t seem to need time to think and they didn’t have much stomach for talking it out. They needed to get a move on – they high-tailed it to the playing field where an important win was already taking place – shouting the team’s praises as they went!
Today it’s my job to share the Good News with you. God has come into the world – taking a big risk in order that all people – all people everywhere would know God’s love in an authentic and meaningful way. God came because God loves. And that love is for all people – it is for you and it is for me. That is the good news.
What each of us will do with that news is up for grabs. Some of us will need to take time to think, to ponder, to reflect on the Good News in silence; some will need to talk it out and make a plan, and some will be like fans at a ball game after hearing the Good News– jumping fences to touch the winning players.
God has come – in humility – in flesh and blood. He will not beat you into submission, he will not ask you to be anything but yourselves. God comes with an invitation: Be my partner – share my love, help me bring peace and establish justice in your homes and throughout the world. Come tentatively if that’s where you are; come with questions if you have them; come and talk it out or come with shouts of great joy. But come.
I love you, God says today; you are worth the risk I took so long ago. Amen.