24 December 2019: Christmas Eve

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The gospel text for Christmas Eve was Luke 2.1-20.

Over the last few Sundays,
the season of Advent,
when we prepare for Jesus’ birth,
our Bible lessons
have not been prophecy about Jesus’ birth.
They’ve been prophecy about the end of time.
They’ve been admonition
to be ready for God’s coming reign.
In a recent piece for TIME magazine’s website,
bishop and scholar NT Wright reminds us,
“The followers of the Jesus-movement
that grew up in [the] complex environment
(of Jewish hope, Roman imperialism, and Greek thought)

saw ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’ —
God’s space and ours, if you like —
as the twin halves
of God’s good creation.
Rather than rescuing people
from the latter in order to reach the former,
the creator God
would finally bring heaven and earth together
in a great act of new creation,
completing the original creative purpose
by healing the entire cosmos
of its ancient ills.”

We’ve been preparing for God’s coming reign,
and tonight we hear a message,
“to you is born this day
in the city of David a Savior,
who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Wright points out in his piece
that Revelation doesn’t end
with humanity going to heaven.
God’s new reign
is the heavenly Jerusalem coming to earth.
And here at Christmas,
we celebrate that heaven has come to earth
as Jesus — fully God and fully human —
is born.
The atonement for humanity,
our at-one-ment,
is when heaven arrives not in power and might,
but in a cold, shivering, hungry, screaming baby,
despite what “Silent Night” would have us believe.

Christmas Eve is always the same text.
Always Luke 2.
When we hear the same stories over and over
they can make us blind to how outrageous they are.
Hearing about grace generically,
can make us blind to the all-encompassing love
God has for us.
We can forget that God loves us and forgives us,
through God’s saving acts in Jesus,
no matter what we’ve done
and with no way to earn it,
Christmas Eve is always the same text.
Always Luke 2.
It’s always good news
that God’s anointed,
the Messiah,
Jesus — fully God and fully human —
has been born in the flesh.
The divine has become human,
that we may become divine.
When we hear Luke 2 again and again,
we can forget the outlandishness of what we believe.

Poet Kaitlin Hardy Shetler
invites us to remember:

Sometimes I wonder
if Mary breastfed Jesus.
if she cried out when he bit her
or if she sobbed when he would not latch.
and sometimes I wonder
if this is all too vulgar
to ask in a church
full of men
without milk stains on their shirts
or coconut oil on their breasts
preaching from pulpits off limits to the Mother of God.

but then i think of feeding Jesus,
birthing Jesus,
the expulsion of blood
and smell of sweat,
the salt of a mother’s tears
onto the soft head of the Salt of the Earth,
feeling lonely
and tired

and i think,
if the vulgarity of birth is not
honestly preached
by men who carry power but not burden,
who carry privilege but not labor,
who carry authority but not submission,
then it should not be preached at all.

because the real scandal of the Birth of God
lies in the cracked nipples of a
14 year old
and not in the sermons of ministers
who say women
are too delicate
to lead.

I challenge the notion
of God impregnating a 14 year old
from Shetler’s poem,
but revel in its earthiness.
Think about it.
The God of all creation,
the one who spoke and brought all things into being
being covered in birthing fluid
and needing to be swaddled to stay warm.
The birth of Jesus,
God coming among humanity to save humanity
is what makes the angels sing
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth, peace to all!”
We don’t have to look around very long
or look very far
to see that none of us is perfect,
and do we ever need saving.
God shows up as one of us in Jesus,
And starts to do a New Thing —
where heaven and earth are joined together.

As popular songs tell us,
it’s the most wonderful time of the year.
It really is.
We spend time with loved ones,
biological family or otherwise.
We may travel to places old and new,
and often we exchange tokens of our love
for one another.
All of those things are true.
We gather here tonight,
in this place with these people,
to celebrate God’s love for us.
We’re gathered right here,
right now
because God loved us too much
to leave us on our own.
We’re gathered right here,
right now,
because God came to dwell among us
in Jesus — fully God and fully human.
To us is born this day
in the city of David
a Savior,
who is the Messiah,
the Lord.
Glory to God in the highest,
and peace to all people on earth. Amen.

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