Christmas Eve 2003
I have a running joke going with the Director of Christian Education here at Trinity ‚Äì or actually I suppose I should say that she has a running joke going with me.
Every year the children have a Birthday party for Jesus downstairs in the Sunday School on some Sunday in the month of December. They collect presents for the Baby Jesus ‚Äì which are then distributed to children who are our guests in the Soup Kitchen, and they have cake and ice cream and they sing ‚ÄúHappy Birthday‚Äù to the Christ Child.
And every year when I hear of it, I pretend to groan and Claire laughs at me. We have the dialogue pretty down now after working together for four years. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not Jesus birthday‚Äù. ‚ÄúYou are so weird about that Nick. Why ARE you so weird?‚Äù ‚Ä¶
Why am I so weird about that? It‚Äôs because I hope that someday the children may take time to study their faith and will discover that in fact we don‚Äôt know the day of Jesus‚Äô birth ‚Äì and that today was chosen by the church not as a celebration of Birth ‚Äì but as a Celebration of Incarnation. I don‚Äôt want children to make the mistake that so many people make, that the church‚Äôs belief are simply folk tales and quaint customs, with no grounding in truth.
The real concern that I have is that by imagining this is actually Jesus‚Äô birthday we are missing the true meaning of Christmas ‚Äì that the Word of God, came into the world, Incarnate in the human form of Jesus of Nazareth and that the moment of Incarnation profoundly altered our world.
The fact that God came into the world gives us as Anglicans support for one of our most dearly held theological beliefs ‚Äì the earthly realm is not something to be rejected or escaped.
We are a funny people, we Episcopalians/Anglicans. We are hard for people to understand ‚Äì and that isn‚Äôt surprising given our roots on the Isle of Great Britain. My friends from other branches of the One True Church often like to tease me about our Anglican pomp and ceremony, our rituals, our love of music and beauty, and our instance that we delight in the created order of God.
But all this has root in the focus we Episcopalians have always had on the Incarnation. As I mentioned in a sermon last month, the Anglican cross is neither the cross of the dying Jesus, nor the bare cross of Easter triumph ‚Äì it is the Cross of Christ the King, crucified and alive. It is a symbol of the teaching and implication of the Incarnation. If God has come into the world, then the world is suffused with God‚Äôs presence, lit with God‚Äôs light and bound together with God‚Äôs love and self-sacrifice.
A friend of mine (the Archdeacon of Bethlehem) recently returned from the Holy Land. He gave me a small stone from the Sea of Galilee as a gift. He told me about how he had waded out into the water of the lake to reach down and find a stone that he thought Jesus himself might have once walked upon. I am deeply touched by his thoughtful gift, and that little stone has a place of honor among the other wonderful little gifts that people shared with me over the years. But let me tell you something‚Ä¶ if we spend a moment and do a little math, we can work out that with every breath we take, we inhale and exhale hundreds and thousands of atoms of air that our Lord inhaled and exhaled during the time of his earthly incarnation among us. With every breath we take we breathe the breath of Christ Jesus ‚Äì the Lamb of God, our Savior and our Redeemer.
Our breath is sacred because in it we are united with Christ. But our unity to God doesn‚Äôt just start or stop with our breath ‚Äì it is found in the water we drink, the food we consume, the tears we shed, the water with which we baptize, the bread and the wine we eat and drink. All things upon this wondrous earth have been touched by God, not only through creation, but through the Incarnation of Jesus upon this planet we all share.
God who made all things, the Heavens and the Earth, the Galaxies, the Stars, Planets, Moons, Comets, the fires of space and the music of the spheres, literally shares the very breath we breathe ‚Äì as we all share together in the existence that God under girds with Agape love.
The meaning of the Incarnation is that there can be no artificial divorce between the heavenly and the earthly. It reminds us that the Greeks were wrong when they thought that the only way to find the divine was to reject the earthly. Instead, because of the Doctrine of the Incarnation, God with Us, Immanuel, we know that there is no place in our lives upon this planet Earth that we can not encounter God and God‚Äôs redemptive love.
Let me repeat that ‚Äì there is no divorce between Heaven and Earth. This is the message of the Incarnation. God in Jesus has redeemed it all. There is no need to escape the earthly and move toward the heavenly.
I‚Äôll tell you a great secret ‚Äì if you look around you can not avoid stumbling over the presence of God. Certainly there are times when it is easier to see God in the world ‚Äì like in joy of Christmas morning as friends and family gather to exchange gifts and luxuriate in the warmth of their shared love. We see God in the faces of the volunteers of the Soup Kitchen that tomorrow will feed hundreds of people, giving earthly food and emotional joy to people who may not have either. We see God in the faces of the people our guests in the Kitchen ‚Äì who have gifted us with their presence so that in serving them, we can serve our Lord Jesus. But we can see God in the face of trust of a person laying ill in the hospital tonight, knowing that so many people are working to return them to health. We can see God in long lines at the stores these past days, knowing that family members are so grateful for our presence in their life that they are willing to endure long waits to find us that simple gift that will show us how much we mean to them. And the long wait means that huge crowds of people have the same love for the people in their lives that we do in ours. What a sign of God‚Äôs presence in the world those Christmas lines at Best Buy this past week have been!
No matter where you are, you can find God. God is present in the quiet wind whispering through the dark and fragrant pine branches tonight. God is present in the candles glowing on the altar. God is present far out to sea on the crests of the foamy waves moving silently through the starry night upon the great deep. God is present in the little smile of a child anticipating the joys of tomorrow morning. God is present in the heart of the great-grandmother who sits by the fire and treasures the memories of Christmases long ago. God is present in the bread and the wine that we share with each other tonight remembering the reason that Jesus came into this world.
If you would know the true meaning of Christmas ‚Äì look for signs of the Incarnation. God will show you that there is nothing that can not be redeemed, nothing that God can not love. On the Christmas night, let us give thanks to God for giving us the opportunity to share with him in the world he has made. Let us see in this night a sign of the great gift God has given each one of us ‚Äì and let us see God in one another, fellow children of God, redeemed by Christ and being transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.