Preached over Zoom from Fort St John British Columbia because public worship had been suspended by the secular authorities Dec. 24, 2020.
A very Merry Christmas to you! And let us not forget what we are celebrating-
What is it to be human? God says let us make man in our own image, and so he makes a man and a women who he wants to be like him. And so we are dust that wants to be like God, that should want to be like God. We cannot do so by moving apart from him, apart from his way, we cannot do so at all. Temptation plays on this desire for intimacy with God and turns our hearts and our bodies and our attentions into all kinds of twisted knots trying to get satisfaction anywhere but through the one who satisfies, the potter who is at work shaping this rebellious clay. The story of creation does not end with the expulsion from the garden.
And so God who formed us out of the clay, picks up this dust again, takes it up into his nature, into his story. He called a people to bear his name, to know a promise, to prepare for his reign. To them he sent prophets proclaiming a child would be born to a virgin, proclaiming the renewal of creation that had been marred by our seeking to be like by our own strength, prophets proclaiming a path of real enduring joy. When the kingdom of these people set apart was scattered, traumatized, and oppressed in foreign lands they remembered the prophets proclaiming a king who would not hold power like others hold power, but who would reign as a shepherd, comforting his people and saving them from danger.
But the people returned from their time of exile. They rebuilt their temple to worship God, they rebuilt the city walls, but no new king came to them. Instead new scoffers came and mocked their hope and reigned over them like worldly tyrants do. Hundreds of years passed, they tried to overthrow their oppressors and it failed, some compromised with them for their own gain, and the bright hope became a quiet hope, a pained hope, an enduring hope.
Then in secret, in the silence of the night an angel, usually depicted in scripture as a terrifying other-worldly servant of God with thousands of eyes and flames and stuff going on, comes to a young engaged girl, and meets this surviving hope, he proclaims that she though a virgin will be having a baby named “God-with-us” he will be called the Son of God and Mary gives up her life to the fulfillment of the promise of God. In her a mystery happens, where the one who formed us in our mother’s womb took up a form in her. In Mary he who made us began to make us new, taking our nature up into the reality of himself by becoming a man. The infinite in the very tiny.
This hope when shared with her aunt Elizabeth, an old woman pregnant herself with the one that God had sent to proclaim the coming of his Son, burst into flame. For Mary this young woman when what was happening in her was recognized sang a song we still put on our lips. She sang of glory rightly given to God, she sang of wonder of being chosen by God, she sang of his mercy and the scattering of pride, she sang of an end to tyranny, and satisfaction from the feeding hand of God who cares for the people who bear his name. The Magnificat.
Out on the rough hilltops, rough men carefully tended their sheep late in the night, far from the bustling village below. Before them an army appeared, and I mean an army – angels are soldiers and earth was, since Adam, in rebellion against God. This army came with light shining in the darkness. These men who regularly fended off bears and wolves and lions and poachers collapsed in fear before the forces of the Lord of angel armies. And they were told that this army came to bring good news, for all the peoples of the world, the shepherds were told that the Shepherd-King was born and that they would find him asleep in a crowded stable. Then this army sang- It sang glory to God to whom all glory belongs, and peace on earth, peace with heaven, peace between God and us, peace between the potter and the clay. And so these rough stinky men came rushing into a busy and bustling city, telling everyone they saw that they were looking for a child born in a stable and all who heard them were amazed, and finding Mary and Joseph and the child seeing the one had come to bring enduring joy, and a path to God, and to rule like a Shepherd they returned to the hills praising God and giving him glory as they had seen the angels do.
For Mary had given birth to our hope, to the Word of God incarnate, to the perfect image-of-God in dust, to Jesus who is the King of those who die to themselves and put their trust in him. Where before God had spoken through prophets and angels, here he spoke himself into human flesh. He spoke to his people directly among them, as one of them. This is the reason we give Christmas presents, as a genuine and appropriate celebration of the gift who was given to us, the person of Jesus who came among us, taught us, and died to free us from the power of sin and death. He was born to set us free and to prepare a place for us with the God we can’t help but desire or fear to share our life with. The tyrants will be overthrown in fact in a sense already have been, the injustices of this world will pass away, our good works and monuments and efforts will pass away, the things we try to do to be like God will pass away, but the Word of God endures for ever and offers to take you up into himself, into his incarnation, to make you a part of his body the Church, and to preserve you for life forever with him. The story of creation does not end in the garden, Jesus came to renew humanity and finish it upon the cross, he will come again to take the pot out of the kiln. Let us not grow weary in praising God for the gift of his son, for life taken up in him, for the mystery of the incarnation and his faithfulness to his promises. Thanks be to God.