December 24, 2008
Edwards (Knox) United Church
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The Rev. Dr. George Hermanson
As we gather at the table where we are hosted by God, we remember the gift of the stable. This night is not simply a narrative of past events, it is a story that speaks of God presence with us, in this world of ours. The story begins with a birth that speaks of the “scandal of particularity.”
We miss this because there is a problem we have with the Christmas story. We know the ending before we even begin. It’s like watching the movie It’s a Wonderful Life when it’s on TV. We already know how it turns out. We see each turn in the Christmas story with such familiarity that we don't appreciate the risk and the love which was required to make it all turn out okay. The story of Mary and Joseph is not a simple story where God has already decided the outcome and everyone is merely doing as they are told. This is a moment full of risking your life and your reputation on a baby. This is a moment full of sacrifice, based on nothing more than a promise. It is a moment of free response.
When we live our life, we never know how it is all going to turn out. To do the right thing means you are willing to take the risk and love someone. Even though we don't know how it is going to turn out, we love them anyway.
It must have been hard for Mary and Joseph to do the right thing. For what everyone in the community sees, is a down on his luck carpenter, who has just taken a turn for the worse. Mary and Joseph are alone on this journey. And they don't have the luxury of knowing exactly how it is all going to turn out.
This is what real love looks like. Love is a little blind to the rules. It cares more for the tender elements in the world than it does for power, respectability & control. It takes a risk in the present moment, rather than betting on a safe outcome at the end. Great things happen when we risk.
This story of Christmas is a story of God risking love, jumping into the messiness of life. It is story of gift giving. It is the gift of risky love of God. It is unexpected and over the top gift, a kind of plenty that goes beyond all there is. It creates in us a possibility of a free and loving response to the giftedness of life. And we play that out with our own time of gift giving. In the receiving of the gift of love we feel gratitude, and that creates within us a generosity that goes beyond obligation. A free response to this gift of God for it is a gift of love. Love is the reason for gift giving.
The story is one of how the true lover loves without demanding a return. This gift of love does not ask for anything back. It does create in us an attitude toward life of risking that encourages us to grow in love. Love encourages us to engage others with arms wide open.
This risky love encourages us to let go, to be generous beyond all accounting. It is to pay attention to the needs of others. Because there is a need and because we have, we give.
This Christmas story of God gifting the world is the original meaning of giving presents at Christmas. This risk of the baby is the first Christmas gift. It tells us there is more than enough to go around, to live not in scarcity but abundance. The story calls us to awaken out imaginations, to rehearse, retell, and re- sing a formative story of our faith. We reflect and sing. In this time there is a note of wild and joyous exuberance in the songs we sing. "Rejoice! Exult! Sing aloud! Shout! I will bring you home says the Lord." No wonder these phrases get picked up in great liturgical music. It is hard to sit still. Isaiah sings: "Surely God is my salvation! My Strength! Sing aloud! Sing for Joy!" Mary belts out her song. She sings with confidence in what God has done.
And after tasting the bread and wine of God, we go to love this world of ours. Having claimed our inner sense of gratitude we go out to create more love in our world. We birth a new way of being - we go out singing and embracing a way of life that is inclusive, caring, sharing of burdens. Affirm the light of God that lights up this dark night of our soul - remember once again - God is born in us tonight.