A sermon for Christmas Day, 2017. The scripture readings are Isaiah 52:7-10, Psalm 98, Hebrews 1:1-4,(5-12), and John 1:1-14.
Listen to the sermon HERE.
As I was walking the dog this Christmas morning, I said a little prayer of thanksgiving for the NY delis that are open. I prayed for the workers and their families, and hoped that they and others who work today are being compensated for the holiday and that the day is a good one for them. But I especially gave thanks for what can be found in the delis and 7-Elevens: the good, strong, hot coffee.
As I watched a grateful couple leave one deli, cradling their coffee like a rare and precious find on a holiday morning, it made me think of a scene in one of my favorite movies: Wings of Desire.
Wings of Desire is by the German filmmaker Wim Wenders, and it’s a slightly strange movie, with the actor Peter Falk playing a major role. Among the many things it’s about, it’s about angels. In particular, Wings of Desire is about one angel who wrestles with whether to remain an angel—someone removed from life, at a distance, watching, but unable to affect. Observing, but unable to intervene.
Finally, the decision is made. The angel drops from the sky. One of the first discoveries he makes is that he is bleeding. He’s become scratched in the fall, there’s a little blood—blood, something he’s not had before or felt before or known. He walks in wonder, at the cold, at the light, at the wind, and the feeling of ground beneath, the sight of air above. The angel-turned human busy a cup of coffee.
It burns his hand, it’s so hot—but it’s wonderful—to feel, to hurt, to be human. The movie, as I said, is a strange one. And while it has to do with an angel who wants to be human, it gives us a different perspective on one of the most basic aspects of our being, something we take for granted.
Christmas Day is not really a day for theology. It’s not a day for philosophy or theory. It’s a day for love, because it celebrates the depth to which God’s love comes into our world.
Emmanuel—God with us, God wanting to be with us, God wanting to be like us, to feel what we feel, to know what we know, to cry human tears, to bleed human blood, to die a human death.
And then because of love, through love, by the power of love, raise the dead to new life and reach back into humanity to lift each one of us into loving eternity.
The word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.
The very word of God – the Word of God no longer a long way off, no longer whispered, but shouted out loud. The Word that gave the world its whirling and set the planets spinning – the Word of God put syllable with syllable in a new way, created an entirely new syntax, and spoke in the form of a helpless, crying, needy, smelly, little baby. God’s word of action and creation, of revealing and redeeming took the form of a human creature not even able to care for itself.
We miss the point of Christmas if we only look for magic in the stars and overlook the miracle on earth. As one theologian [Shirley Guthrie] puts it, “When we talk about God’s presence in the world, we’re not simply talking about a “spiritual presence” or a “feeling” or a vague perception of some good or charitable thought.
We’re talking about geography: Jesus was born in Palestine, an outpost all but overlooked by the Roman Empire.
We’re talking about politics: Jesus was born in the midst of a census, there was danger of political revolution, and many of the religious expected a messiah who would be a political revolutionary.
When we talk about God’s presence in the world, we’re talking about economics: Jesus was born in a barn to parents of meager means. With the story of Jesus, the Word made Flesh, we’re not just talking about a religious theory or a myth of world religion with nice music attached. We’re talking about the God of heaven and earth, who came into the world as a human being who was ignored, ridiculed and put to death. We’re talking about God who in human form died the same death we die, but rose again from the grave and has opened the way for us to life everlasting. God who touches, who heals, who helps, who forgives, who reconciles, who raises from the death, who restores to life eternal.
God in the flesh, Jesus, has power the transform the ordinary into the miraculous. He brings God’s presence into the everyday and the mundane.
Think of the scriptures. When Jesus meets the woman at the well, their conversation transforms a bucket of water into a symbol of hope and healing. And the woman then tells the village.
When Jesus meets Nicodemus late one night, Jesus brings God’s presence into the life of a religious official, one who thinks he’s got life pretty much figured out. But Jesus explains to Nicodemus how to be born again. Again and again, and again and again and again.
When Jesus meets the rich young ruler, it is God’s presence that shows the young man just how difficult it can to live freely when one is weighted down by too many things. When Jesus appears to Mary and Joanna and the other woman in the garden, it is God’s presence that shows them the light of resurrection. It is God’s presence that gives them hope and strength. They spread the word and with the other apostles, they build the church.
God’s presence is clear in the scriptures, but what about in our own day?
“The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us!” That’s the good news. Not that the Word of God has come and gone. But that the Word of God dwells among us.
God is with us. God is with our hopes and our dreams. God is in the very things we struggle, God is in the very people we struggle against.
If we are looking for a god who is outside our pain, beyond our longing, removed from our suffering, unfeeling and untouched by who we are and what we need—then we can continue to gaze into the heavens—that god has NOT come.
But if we look inside our world into the eyes of each other, if we look inside ourselves, if we look for God whose presence permeates our crazy, upside-down world, then we have that God. And we have seen his face. Emmanuel. God with us—God the ever-creating, ever-renewing, ever-forgiving, ever-enjoying, ever-accepting, ever-loving presence with us.
God comes to be close to us, to know us more intimately, to be a part of our lives more fully. Of all the gifts, of all the things we receive this year, may our hearts be empty and open enough to receive God.
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.