A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake Episcopal Church, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The readings for Christmas are here.
Merry Christmas! Has it been all you expected? Has it been a difficult time? Have you experienced anything unexpected?
For those of us who participate in the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement, we know that the season of Christmas is only just beginning, even if tomorrow, the world around us will start clearing away Christmas – everything will go on clearance, decorations will be removed and stored, and trees taken down.
Christmas is a seasonal part of our continuous, life-long celebration of God coming among us, born a tiny, fragile baby, growing and living to show us in flesh and blood who and Whose we are, dying and rising to life again to defeat even the worst of our fears. Christmas is so much more than a day or even a season; it is part of the ongoing story of God loving us and teaching us to love every moment of every day.
What we celebrate over the next 12 days of Christmas is not a single event in time but an eternal story that always has been, is now, and always will be. And the story begins with a word – the word that spoke us and all of creation into being. The word that gives us life and lights our world.
In his telling of the Good News Story, John tells us that Jesus is this very word of God – the power to create and restore and give life to the world, the source of the light of hope that is and always has been, more powerful than any dark force of this world.
In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. John makes it clear that Jesus was not plan b – the Christmas story has been God’s plan all along. God’s Word always has been and always will be.
There is a video floating around this Christmas season that some of you may have seen. It’s done by a church in Auckland, New Zealand. They’ve done several, actually, all focused on parts of the Christmas story, all staring children and they are very well done. In this particular one, titled The Unexpected Christmas, God has declared it is time to step into history.
The angels around him begin to offer advice – Gabriel and the other archangels want to send an army. God says, no, just one person. So they counter that it must be someone very powerful and very strong. Again, God says no, not someone powerful but a baby. So another angel reminds God, as if he needs reminding, that human babies are small and weak and suggests the baby should be born to a powerful ruling family. Again, God declares his own plan – that the baby would be born to a peasant girl. And that it won’t be just any baby, it will be the prince of heaven, the son of God. And throughout the scene, as God reveals the details of his plan, one little angel keeps exclaiming “Brilliant, they won’t be expecting that!”
And slowly the angels realize that God’s plan is to take the world by surprise.
And then one angel asks, “Lord, how will the people know he’s there? What if they don’t notice him?” And God replies, “those who are looking will find him.”
Like the Angels, we all think we have the perfect plan for God to use in this world – be it armies, money, power, or whatever. We want to use the ways of this world to fix this world. But God knows better.
The work of God is not done through how the world defines strength and power, but through a small child who had to be sought out.
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury says, “The work of God is not done through strength and efficiency, but through those who, having seen the baby, leak out the love that they receive.… Glorifying God, leaking into the world the love that he leaks into us through the wounds and breaches and gaps of our own lives, is a severely practical and down to earth activity.”
So what are you expecting this Christmas? I know each of you is seeking God’s way or you wouldn’t be here.
As the world around us moves on from the event of the day, consider how we can keep the eternal story visible. Reflect on how you leak the love that you have received, or in John’s words how do you to testify to the light of God’s love?
If you were here a couple of weeks ago, you may remember that I confessed to having put some Christmas ornaments around our Advent wreath. Well, I have another seasonal confession – I leave my nativity scene up all year round. It is a continuous reminder of God’s love. When I found it in a little shop in a Guatemalan market, the presence of God in that place took me by surprise and I am reminded of that each time I walk past it. And, it makes me even more aware of the display of crosses I have hanging on the wall on the other side of the living room because it is in the living that we experience who God is and shine God’s light of love.
As we follow Jesus we live life as Jesus showed us by his life, framed by his fragile birth and vulnerable death. And if the Savior of the world’s birth into a poor family wasn’t shocking enough, God’s way of redeeming the world through compassion and vulnerability at his crucifixion was absolutely revolutionary. Jesus spent his time in history with the marginalized, not those in power. He chose relationships over rule keeping. He offered compassion instead of seeking prestige. And he invites everyone to follow him in this Way of Love.
In a world that seems to be addicted to anger and exclusion, shining the light of God’s love will take many by surprise and we are invited to participate in the unexpected Way.
God’s light of Love shines bright in every small act of kindness. In the year to come, watch for God’s Way of Love to take you by surprise and seek out ways you can take others by surprise with the love that brings us to life with the peace, hope, joy, and love of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Merry Christmas.
Link for The Unexpected Christmas