This message will be finished on Christmas Eve, so if you are unable to be here Friday night (at 6 p.m.), you may want to watch on line. (
The fourth Sunday in Advent, 2010
December 19, 2010
David B. Weber, Pastor, First UMC, Jacksboro, TX
I really do believe this gospel story is “Wow!”
I believe this story is still unfolding, still producing new “Wows!”
And I believe we have been waiting in wonder and with wisdom now1, and that we are about to see something new.
We know the gospel story, the nativity story. We know it so well that it feels like settling into a comfortable old chair when we hear those opening words from Luke: “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed..”
But my intentions this year have not been to get comfortable again with the story, but to look again at this story as a Thin Place this time- a place where, like the shepherds and the magi, we could encounter the divine nearby- as close as the condensing breath of a baby on the chilly night air.
So, in wonder, with no preconceived, prejudiced, expected or “historically traditional and acceptable” answers at the ready, I asked myself these questions:
1.What have I missed before in this story of Jesus’ birth?
2.Is there still more to be learned or to be known about the story?
Pulling from the wisdom then of a lifetime of authors, teachers, and my very own reflections; authors old and new, many Christian but not all, I am seeing Light. It’s a Light which is leading me to a place in my heart, in my soul..maybe in ways Light has led others to their encounters with the divine.
Here’s what is becoming so firm for me, so manifest, so apparent, so obvious that I am finally beginning to be able to articulate it:
The Word became flesh. And just as everything else in Creation was, once upon a time, described described as Good- that Word, that Word made flesh was also pronounced by God to be “Good.” (As in “this is my son in whom I am well pleased.”) This world, this universe, the earth, the sky, the stars, the animals- God said, “That’s Good.”
Goodness. That is what I am perceiving being revealed.
So from the scene of the stable and the manger, let’s move outward now and look at an always-becoming-larger picture:
Look first at Mary, a young woman, most likely 16, 17, 18 years old. We know nothing about her before the angel Gabriel came knocking. Nobody would have looked at her askance if she had looked out the peephole and hollered, “Get out of here!” But no, her response after the plans of God from the angel was, “Let it be.” She was a good young woman.
Joseph, Mary’s fiance. He could legally have had Mary taken to the edge of town and stoned. And who would have blamed him? His manhood had been insulted. His girlfriend was pregnant, and not by him! But he takes Mary as his wife, and raises her son as his own. Joseph was a good man.
And Elizabeth, Mary’s older cousin who Mary goes immediately to stay with at the beginning of her pregnancy. Does Elizabeth judge her cousin? Does she make Mary jump through moral hoops in return for a favor, or dictate dogma about unwed motherhood to her before she extends an invitation to stay? No, Elizabeth says to Mary, with no hesitation, “Come in, come in.” And then they sing together! Elizabeth was a good woman!
The shepherds..these were the tough guys of their day..the guys who could kill a bear or a lion with their fists and a knife. But they’re knocked over by the beauty of an angelic chorus; they’re made new by the gentleness of a baby’s presence. The shepherds were good men!
The wise men, the magi.. Riding across the property of Imperialist Rome, into the land of the puppet king Herod. The magi, following Wisdom- the Light, saw the prophecies of ancient oracles coming true and they risked their lives, their fortunes to keep that great news from the evil king Herod. They too were good men!
Most of what we have studied and understood about Christianity has been to understand the necessity of Jesus coming as the son of God to take away our sinfulness, our awfulness, our human badness. It seems as if that is how Jesus is most understood- as goodness standing in stark contrast to our badness?!
I’m here today to say something very different. I don’t believe Jesus came to make us ashamed of ourselves, or to stand in bright contrast to our dark-hardened heartlessness. On the contrary, I do believe Jesus enables us to rediscover, celebrate, and to more fully and abundantly live our human goodness. And I think today that I will probably spend the rest of my life understanding and sharing that. It is the Light that is filling my eyes, and it is also the wonderful wisdom I have waited a long time for- a Light that is also filling my heart and mind.
Have we been looking at the manger, at the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ from too many wrong and dark angles?
Have we been missing the covered-over goodness in ourselves and others that Jesus, from the time he was a baby, uncovered in all who came near him?
God looked out on God’s Creation- on the earth, the seas, the sky, the moon, the stars, animals, Adam and Eve and said, “That’s good.” God sent his son to demonstrate, to affirm that it’s still good- that it never stopped being good, and we never stopped being created in a good God’s image!
On Christmas Eve I’ll say more and tell you a story that reveals this truth- a story you will never forget.
And this is a theme you will hear me preach and teach often in the new year. But let this begin to sink in, beginning right now:
You have come near the Christ, you have reached toward Jesus, because you are good. We have been invited to the manger in Bethlehem; more importantly, we have been invited to the cross at Golgotha, because we are good.
Because we are good and we have always been good, but we have also been forgetful. And God, in the son, wants us to remember, to know, to live: we are good people.
1The three previous Advent messages have been about Thin Places, similar to the Celtic definition of them but concentrating on mental and emotional states rather than places. Wonder, Wisdom, and Waiting have been those states of being.