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December 24, 2004 (Christmas Eve)
Intern Pastor Katy Grindberg
Brothers and Sisters, grace and peace to you from God our loving creator and from Jesus Christ, our Savior, born this night. Amen.
Beginning around Thanksgiving, about the time the shopping season really gets ramped up, I began hearing a lot about how "Christ" has been lost from Christmas. It is a theme we hear repeated yearly, and for many people it is probably true. Christmas, as we all know has a strong commercial aspect and secular appeal. For some of us it may be out of recognition of lives lived in an era of multiculturalism and a way to show respect for other traditions and beliefs. But, every year there is a great hue and cry among religious leaders reminding everyone that Jesus is "the reason for the season."
For many, even those who are Christian, the season has become less about the birth of Jesus and more about buying the right gift; getting & decorating a tree; being with family; getting the right gift; making the perfect dinner with all of the right side dishes to make it "really" Christmas; for some it may be about watching football; or being off of school or work and getting a much needed rest. None of these reasons to celebrate Christmas are bad, in fact, all are important in their own way.
Another person we have been hearing a lot from lately is Tom Hanks. Many of his interviews about the movie, The Polar Express, were replayed in the past week because of its tie-in to Christmas. A few days ago I saw a replay of an interview that Oprah Winfrey conducted with Tom Hanks. She asked him why he decided to make a movie out of the book The Polar Express. They both agreed that there were many good Christmas stories, so what was it about this book. They discussed several other children's books, and then Hanks threw out this line--"you know, the big guy, with the star--that's a pretty good story, too."
For many people who know the story--it has become just that, a story. It is a story with a clean stable and a polite baby. A story with an adoring mother and polite shepherds and sweet smelling animals, where the sheep are polite enough to not wander off. And oh yeah, if we look close enough there is Joseph as well.
If you stop to think about it though, it is quite a strange story. This baby lying in a manger--he's not very "god-like" is he? When we speak of someone being "like a god"--most often a sports star or other celebrity--we use the phrase to speak of someone who is powerful, strong, successful at their career. The book of Isaiah, speaks of the coming Messiah as one who is "Wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." And what do we have? We have an infant, born to a humble family, to a nearly disgraced mother, to a people who were oppressed and whose land was occupied. Not exactly god-like. Sure, his birth was announced by angels, but to a bunch of shepherds, and they were not exactly the elite of Judean society.
I wonder if I were to try to explain it to someone unfamiliar with the story to explain how God came into the world in Jesus, if I would get a lot of strange looks and comments. Especially as we are in this North American society where the ideal person has power, wealth, the ultimate career--things we use as measures of success. This babe, born in a stable, laid in a manger epitomizes none of those.
But this is more than just a good story--it is our story...the story of our savior...the story of our faith. But what does this strange story have to say to us? Where do we fit in here?
We who are so uncomfortable, often unwilling to expose our own powerlessness. We speak of the powerless a lot in church, they were certainly the main concern of the Old Testament prophets, and of Jesus. When we hear of the powerless, I think our tendency is to think of them as "those other" people. Oh yes, the powerless. They are those who are poorer than I am or have a darker skin color. The powerless, yes, the are those that are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. Or they are those who have a less desirable job or are prisoners, or maybe those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Or maybe you think of the powerless as those who are in war-torn parts of the world or are living under occupation. Oh, yes, maybe you think, I've heard of the powerless...those other people.
As individuals and corporately, we often do whatever we can to assert our power, and deny our powerlessness. We spend millions of dollars to stave off aging. There are drugs, surgery, cosmetics, hair replacement--all to keep from looking older. We often buy stuff we may not really need. Personally, if I don't unwrap an iPod tomorrow, my life will go on just fine--but I want one. We join social clubs and country clubs to meet the right people and make connections. Certainly, that is important to increase your business--to make more money...and gain more power.
And what do we have? We have this baby, lying in a manger. A child whose birth, life and death were all so humble--at times even humiliating. Where is there room for me or you in the stable? The powerless after all are those "other" people. But are they really? What makes you powerless?--either in the past or now? It may be something that I've named already, but maybe it is grief, or anxiety; anger, abandonment or loneliness. What makes you powerless?
And what about this babe, born in humble circumstances is cause for our celebration this night, even our adoration. The good news is exactly what seems so strange--this child born is Emmanuel, God with us. This is God who will go so far to bridge the chasm between us and Godself This is God who will join humanity as a child, go through puberty and the teen year, and grow into adulthood. This is God who joins us in our own powerlessness, who knows what it is like to be a human.
And so, the angel's announcement to the shepherds becomes the announcement to us, as well--
"I am bringing good news of great joy for ALL people; to YOU is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord."
At hearing this announcement we may be, like Mary "pondering it in our hearts" contemplating and wondering what it means for us; or we may find ourselves like the shepherds and not able to help ourselves from "glorifying and praising God for all we have heard and seen"
When you meet God, in Jesus, you meet God who is with you in your joy and sorrow; in your good times and bad; in the mundane and in the extraordinary.
For YOU is born this day in the city of David--a savior, Christ the Lord.
May the Lord of peace himself, Jesus Christ, give you peace at all times in all ways.
Copyright © 2004 Katy Grindberg
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