As we gather here this morning to celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation in Word and Sacrament, we are also nearing the end of 2016. And there are many among who say, “Good riddance!”
It is only too easy for those of us who follow current events to hang our heads in despair at the state of things in the world. We hear of “wars and rumors of wars” at home and abroad. Our hearts break at the plight of refugees crossing our borders, break again as members of the powerful elite use these families as scapegoats for their politics of fear, and then break yet again as an act of terrorism in Berlin seems to lend momentary credibility to the argument that compassion is foolish.
Looking at the world on this Christmas morning, it appears that the cosmic forces of darkness and chaos are winning. We few who gather in church to tell stories, sing songs, and break bread appear to be the most pitiful of fools. Given the facts at hand, it is only understandable if we find ourselves asking the questions: Are just “whistling in the dark” after all? Are we really alone in a universe that came about as a random accident? Is the faith we proclaim nothing more than a charming tale we tell ourselves in order to sleep easier at night?
The modern world would answer “Yes” to all of the above. It would add: “It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there; you’ve got to look out for number one; money talks; might makes right.” The world says that the only truth is facts, and the facts say that we are on our own. I say the world is lying.
The Church tells a very different story in today’s gospel. We say:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”
What we mean by this is that the world belongs to God, who made it.
Christians believe in one God as Trinity: Three persons in relationship (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). For us, God is a relationship. Based on this, we understand the universe to be a network of relationships (galaxies, solar systems, ecosystems, nations, and families) existing within the larger relationship of the Trinity, as a baby grows in her mother’s womb.
But here’s the thing about relationships between persons: they have to be freely chosen. And we humans chose to break relationship with God our creator.
John’s gospel says it like this:
“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”
Once we had broken relationship with God, our relationships with each other began to deteriorate as well. In seeking to become masters of the universe, we became slaves in bondage to each other, to corrupt systems, our own desires, and the powers of darkness and chaos beyond our control.
The good news is that our Creator was not content to leave us in this sad state of affairs. Even though we had broken relationship with God, God never broke relationship with us. God came to live among us in the person of Jesus Christ. John says:
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
As the only-begotten Son of God the Father, Jesus is the fullest expression of the divine image in a human face. Living among us, Jesus loved us: healing the sick, feeding the hungry, forgiving sinners, welcoming strangers, and raising the dead.
But we sinful humans could not stand to look at such holiness. Through the powers of religion and politics, we betrayed, denied, mocked, rejected, tortured, and killed the Son of God by crucifixion: anything just to shut him up and make him go away.
But God wasn’t having any of that nonsense. Like the tired mother of a toddler throwing a temper-tantrum, God rejected our rejection, raising Jesus from the dead and proving, once and for all, that God’s love is stronger than the power of death itself.
“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the door has been opened for us to freely re-enter a harmonious relationship with the Triune God and each other. John says it like this:
“to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the exclamation point at the end of a sentence that began with the incarnation. Christmas marks the beginning of a revolution that will never end until the entire universe is restored to right relationship with God.
The Church, far from an institution of civil religion that upholds the societal status quo, is an underground movement that preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ as an alternative orthodoxy to the lies of this world system.
We are unashamed to speak the truth that the emperor wears no clothes. We are unafraid to expose the dark powers:
- of tyranny, oppression, injustice, stigma, exploitation, violence;
- of racism, sexism, ableism, classism;
- of xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia;
- and every other -phobia and –ism that plagues the human heart.
We are not afraid to name these lies and exorcise these demons from our midst.
The Church of Jesus Christ is a revolutionary movement:
- The Bible is our manifesto, the Sacraments are our weapons of peace, and the Cross is our only flag.
- Our only aim is the final reconciliation of the entire universe with the justice and mercy of God.
- The resurrection is our decisive victory, and the incarnation is our beachhead.
For this reason, let the dark powers of this broken world tremble with fear when they hear us utter the words, “Merry Christmas!”