"We need a child to save us."
A Sermon for the Eve of the Nativity
In the name of our Holy God who chose to become human and change the world with the Holy Spirit of Love. Amen.
I'm so glad you made it tonight. How did you find out where to go? Were there signs for you to follow? A star in the sky? An advertisement in the newspaper? Did an angel interrupt you and let you know that something amazing has happened? Did you hear about the worship services to celebrate miracle of the incarnation in a Sunday bulletin? Maybe a friend invited you to come? Whatever brought you here, I am so grateful that you are here to celebrate the child who changes the world.
Prophets have been predicting the birth of a savior for centuries. Isaiah explained it this way,
"For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore."
A child, an infant, a helpless baby — this is how God chooses to reveal God's authority. The Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace cannot even talk or take care of himself. And yet, this baby wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a make—shift crib is the Word made flesh, God in human form, the ultimate author of life choosing to be present with the beloved creation. Isaiah's description of the Messiah is rather regal and full of power resulting in endless peace, justice, and righteousness for everyone. And yet, we know that the Lord of life was born in the usual way, to a teenaged mother, far from home, in less than ideal conditions. We have done nothing to pretty—up the circumstances over the centuries. We tell the same story of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay and wandering from door to door begging for shelter. If these are the parents of God's incarnation, then where is the power? Where is the authority? Where is the throne room for this Regal Family? Nowhere to be found . .
The infant Jesus is born and looks at us through the haze of newborn eyes trying to adjust to the glaring light of life. He cries to be nursed when his tummy is empty. He cries to be changed when his diaper is full. He cries to be held when he feels afraid. He cries to be rocked when he is uncomfortable. And as it has been with babies throughout the centuries, we respond. We gather the infant into our arms and give him whatever he needs. We will drop whatever we are doing and run to the manger if he so much as squeaks. We awake from a dead sleep to tend to his comfort and offer him our love. God's authority comes into the world and claims our allegiance as an infant child because God knows that babies have the ultimate authority. God is so smart. We never would have responded this way to a full—grown man. We never would have given our whole heart, every waking moment, and even abandoned sleep for the needs of a functional adult. But our ability to love an infant child is limitless and his authority shall grow continually and there shall be endless peace... because we respond and care for him. At least, this is what we hope for on this night.
You see, we need the child to save us. We need the baby Jesus to transform the world, change us from a family that chooses violence, war, and suffering into a family that responds with peace, love, and justice. From his swaddling clothes, resting in the crook of Mary's arm, looking out at a confused world, we need this Jesus to save us. So often we are looking for a savior to come marching into our lives from the outside. We want a divine super hero who will smite our enemies, inspire our allegiance, and take over all the responsibilities that are causing us so much suffering. We want a savior to end the violence in our homes, the violence in Syria, the violence of inner city and rural poverty. We want a savior to restore relationships of trust between Israel and Palestine, between black and white America, between our divisive political ideologies. We want a savior to solve all the tangled webs we have woven and are at a loss about how to fix. And this baby looks back at us with unblinking eyes full of wonder and says nothing and everything at the same time.
Jesus, on this night, and throughout the rest of his life, asks for only one thing. Jesus asks us to love him and then share that same love with one another. I know, it seems deceptively simple and maybe a little simple—minded if we are trying to transform complex issues like global poverty, racism, HIV/AIDS, and genocide. But I tell you honestly, love is the only thing that will save us.
Love is not a sentimental hallmark card or a flutter in our heart when feel our attraction to another. Love is a vulnerable risk that we take with no expectation of reciprocation. To Love is the willingness to extend yourself in order to make space for another. It is that simple. When we love, we stretch, we extend, we reshape ourselves in order to make an opening, a safe space, an open embrace for the life of another. We do it for babies without thinking about it. It is a parenting reflex that begins in the womb, making space for new life, and then continues once the child is born. The infant Jesus reminds us year after year of this love that we are called to share, not only with babies, but with every human being, every child of God. As we get older, the personal risk of sharing love gets greater and the impact of the love we share also grows in authority. Imagine the justice, peace, and righteousness that would extend throughout our homes, across our land, and around the globe if we chose to extend ourselves for the sake of others, not counting the risk, but embracing the opportunity.
No more extending a powerful fist, but instead extend an open and receptive hand. No more extending borders and walls, but instead extend an open and safe space to live. No more extending weapons and armed troops to "keep the peace", but instead extend resources, teachers, healers, and listening hearts to offer assistance and discover peace. The savior of the world comes to save the world by transforming us into a holy family full of love. This transformation will not happen all at once. The world will not be saved in one fell swoop of Jesus' powerful arm reigning from a throne and bullying us into submission. Salvation is a quiet movement that began with Mary and Joseph and a few shepherds 2000 years ago and continues even today.
When they saw the infant, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Everyone who gathers around the manger and makes room for Jesus in their hearts discovers that there is room in their lives to share love with every child of God. The face of Christ looks back at us from every human being and we are compelled to extend ourselves for their sake and risk everything for love.
The late author Leo Buscaglia puts it this way. "The majority of us lead quiet, unheralded lives as we pass through this world. There will most likely be no ticker—tape parades for us, no monuments created in our honor. But that does not lessen our possible impact, for there are scores of people waiting for someone just like us to come along; people who will appreciate our compassion, our unique talents. Someone who will live a happier life merely because we took the time to share what we had to give. Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have a potential to turn a life around. It's overwhelming to consider the continuous opportunities there are to make our love felt."
This is how our God asks us to join with God in the work of saving the world. God took the first risk, God extended God—self to become human for the sake of humanity. Not counting the cost or weighing the risk; embracing that fact that with mortality comes suffering and death. God risked coming into the world in human flesh so that the world might know the love God has for all of us.
That love is the only thing that will save us. Tonight, you have gathered around the manger. Tonight, you have gathered up the infant Jesus into your arms. Tonight, you become part of the salvation of the world. Share with one another the quiet, powerful, authoritative love of God and
Jesus' authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore . . This infant child, he is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Amen.
—The Rev. Adrien Dawson
Dec 24, 2016