12.25.2007

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Eve Sermon, 2007. I don't title sermons, but if I did, this one might have to be "A Very Pregnant Christmas." Short and sweet, it brought about a little laughter and a few tears.

May your day be filled with joy.

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Call it serendipity, call it coincidence, call it a wink and a nod from God himself. Your pastor has been large with child all throughout the season of Advent, the time of spiritual pregnancy that echoes the pregnancy that brought about, so long ago, the birth of Jesus Christ. Luckily, my due date is a little later than Mary’s – though if you put me on a donkey for two days at this point, I’d probably go into labor, too. Shortly after we started sharing our big news, I had a conversation with a pastor friend who, upon doing the gestational math, realized just how pregnant I’d be at Christmas. She was delighted, observing that I would be a walking symbol of the season – or more accurately, a waddling symbol of the season.

In the weeks before Christmas, we are called to wait and hope and prepare our hearts for the birth of the Christ child. For us, these spiritual attitudes have been accompanied by a whole host of practicalities as we prepare for the birth of the one who is presently hiding behind the pulpit. Folding the freshly laundered layette and building the crib were as much a part of our seasonal activities as lighting the candles of the Advent wreath. This church has certainly joined in on the preparations, getting ready for my maternity leave and stocking our nursery with generous gifts – like the aforementioned layette and crib. We are not waiting for this birth alone.

My “condition” hasn’t given this season new meaning, but it has, for me, illuminated the meaning it’s had all along. Mostly I’m just paying more attention—but there have, for sure, been moments of grace that I couldn’t miss if I tried. While working on a sermon for a couple Sundays ago, I was rereading the passage in which the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaped with joy at the sound of her cousin Mary’s greeting. And wouldn’t you know it, the child in my womb started in with a series of impressive amniotic gymnastics. There’s no missing the strange beauty in that sacred synchronicity.

My silent sidekick brings the focus of this holy night into unmistakable clarity: it’s all about a baby. Not just any baby—though every baby is a blessed reminder of the one whom we gather to worship. This night is about a baby named Jesus, born of a girl named Mary, in a remote corner of the world, some two thousand years ago. Anyone who’s heard the story can conjure up an image of the scene. Maybe yours is captured from an idyllic Christmas card, a perfect, still panorama complete with angels aloft in the night. Or perhaps you prefer the perfect imperfection of a living nativity pageant — a makeshift manger populated by oxen with stage fright and wise men decked out in costume jewelry. Every image is true, so long as they point to the crucial part of the scene, the presence of the baby.

For unto us a child is born, and though he is an ordinary child, he is also an extraordinary child. The message of Christmas is as radical as this: the God who created the heavens and the earth, the God who transcends time and space —this God became a man; but before that, a boy; but before that, an infant; but before that, a tiny acrobat in a woman’s womb. And all because he loves us.

He loves us enough to risk birth in a time of desolation, to bring light to whatever darkness we’re lost in. He loves us enough to inhabit even a humble cowshed, to be born into any heart that will make room. He loves us enough to grasp our attention with the curled, searching fingers of a newborn baby, to envelope his divine nature in seven pounds of flesh and bones. He loves us enough to become one of us.

Mary’s life was never the same after that angel came bearing the message that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and fill her with this holy child. The Son of God changes every life he encounters, as drastically as the transformation of a virgin into a mother. Mary’s role in the incarnation did not cease after the birth of Jesus. Only then began the work of Christmas, of caring for the little one cradled in her arms, devoting her heart and her life to making sure he grew in years and in wisdom.

Our Christmas work, our share of the holy childcare, is to nurture and to love the new life that longs to be born in our hearts on this night. Like Mary, our work is just beginning, and will inevitably change us. There’s no going back once we’ve worshiped at the manger. But beware—the one whom we greet as an infant does grow into a man, not just any man. We will encounter him again on the streets of Galilee, and he won’t be an adorable baby anymore. He will challenge us with teachings, confuse us with parables, startle us with miracles. He will dare us to give everything we have to follow him, a feat even more incredible than the story of his birth. Yet he will still embody the same sparkling divinity that evokes our reverence now, for he is our Wonderful Counselor and our Prince of Peace, the one whom God has sent to redeem us all.

But let’s not jump too far ahead in the story of our salvation. They say they’re off for their first day of school before you even know it, but for now, for tonight, the one who will preach from mountains, redeem us on a cross, and abandon his tomb is yet a precious babe. The shepherds are just arriving, trying to be brave and take the advice of the angels who said, “do not be afraid.” The wise men are surely on their way, though they’ve probably been held up by King Herod. The heavenly host is singing the hallelujah chorus. The new mama is pondering all these things in her heart. And we’re up next, for the holy child in the manger needs one last lullaby to ease him into heavenly sleep. May it be so.

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