Delivered December 24, 2016
Tonight we join with more than a billion of our sisters and brothers around the world in rehearsing and remembering one of the most important and most incredible moments in history: the night that God became one of us.
It is on this day that we celebrate one of the most important and one of the most mysterious realities of our faith: that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And from the earliest days the church has reflected on just how to articulate the power, the mystery, and the miracle that is the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
One of the primary questions that has arisen throughout the centuries is this: Why did Jesus come as a child to be born? Why not emerge from the desert like John the Baptist? Or just appear like Melchizedek? Why not rise to power like David?
While many wonderful answers have been given to this line of inquiry down through the centuries, there is one in particular that I want to reflect on as we gather tonight, and that is this:
Jesus comes to us in a way that we might come to him in love, not in fear.
At Sinai, the presence of God is too powerful, too overwhelming, and too loud to bear. The people ask God and ask Moses to speak amongst themselves and to have Moses relay the message. For the prophet Isaiah, being in the presence of the Lord leads him to declare his own demise and destruction. For Elijah on the mountain, the God who doesn't appear in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire, but in a whisper is too much for him to bear. He covers his face and moves away. The God who resides in the Holy of Holies, the unapproachable one, the one who says to Moses, "no one may see my face and live."
God revealed in this way is too much to bear. The response of those made in his image is an overwhelming sensation of fear and looming destruction.
This is why some of the greatest writers of the Christian faith have said that it was important and intentional that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the one who holds all the power, even over death, came to us as a helpless child. Fragile, vulnerable, mortal, and utterly dependent for everything.
God who has come to us as a helpless child is one to whom we can and do find ourselves drawn in awe, in love, and in hope. We know this to be true from our own experiences with the birth of a child. We do not encounter them with fear and trembling, but with wonder, oftentimes speechless, finding our hearts expanded beyond our previously imagined capacity to love another.
This is the God who has come into the world,
not to bring a message of deliverance,
but to be a deliverer,
not to bring a message of salvation,
but to be our salvation,
not to tell us of a future hope,
but to be the one who is our hope,
and not to call us to be reconciled to God,
but to be our redeemer.
This child holds no fear for those in search of hope... of salvation... of deliverance. But for those who are in search of power... of self-assurance... and of the preservation of their own legacy, this child comes to them as a terrifying threat. This child does not come as one who stands to become a king, but has, from eternity, been the King of Kings. This child does not come as one who may usher in a time of peace of justice, but is in himself the Prince of Peace and the Righteousness of God.
Saint Ephrem the Syrian, a fourth-century poet and theologian, calls us to the joy and hope of this day when he proclaims:
Now the day of mercy has shown forth! Let no one persecute his neighbor with revenge for the wrong he has caused him! The day of joy has arrived! Let no one be guilty of causing sorrow and grief to another person. This is a cloudless and bright day! Let anger be stilled for it disturbs peace and tranquility. This is the day in which God descended to sinners! Let the righteous man be ashamed to exalt himself over sinners. This is the day when the Lord of creation came to servants! Let the master of the house humble himself in similar love to his servants. This is the day on which the Wealthy One became poor for our sake! Let not the rich be ashamed to share their table with the poor.
Tonight around this table we celebrate the Word made flesh, the child born to the Virgin, in the town of David, who brings deliverance and hope for all the people, the Savior of the World, Jesus Christ. We celebrate by gathering in his name, in the presence of one another, to remember the new life made possible in his birth.
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:14, NRSV)
So tonight, come and celebrate at the Table of the Lord, for the one born to us as a child is here, as our host. He welcomes you with open arms to receive the Good News.
Come to the table.