Friday, December 18, 2009

A Christmas Message

Isaiah 9:6-7 6
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given : and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

This week we celebrate the birth of a child, one born some 2,000 years ago! This week we open ourselves afresh to the reality of just how the God who is there works in the world. This week we are confronted anew with the truth that God still offers the world freedom from the insane selfishness and habitual violence that comes from that selfishness! And this week we are caused to remember that what was started so long ago in the birth of a peasant in a back-water portion of the Roman Empire, has serious and final ramifications for this present world.

In our mind’s eye we see the little family, huddle in a hovel. They wait out the birth as all of us have done. But as customary as this birth looks, we must say that this was no ordinary birth. In this birth we are led to notice that God’s work in the world is more often than not subtle and incognito. To be sure there is the occasional flourish of fire and miracle, but this is the exception to the rule.

The incarnation -- the word used by Christian theologians to describe what happened in Bethlehem that night when Jesus was born -- offers us insight into how the God-who-is-there thinks and acts. For here God indeed is working, working miraculously, but the miracle is unseen and delicate. Said another way, it seems that when God’s love could have caused Him to make any number of showy responses to our capture by hate and greed and violence, He chose the most unlikely and mysterious versicle -- he became part of the mess in the same way that we do...

Which means instead of standing from afar and shouting orders from the rear, the God-who-is-there became the God-who-is-present! Or, as the Gospels tell us, Jesus is our Emmanuel -- the God who is with us!

Said still another way, God’s response to the selfishness that has led us all to incredible hate and hatefulness was the act of selfless love and uncompromising forgiveness. This means to tell us, then, that the incarnation -- when the living Word of God became flesh -- was only the beginning of God’s work on our behalf. For His movement toward us only opens with the birth pangs of his mother, but it stretches all the way from to the cross, the empty tomb, and finally to His new and glorious Kingdom now breaking into the world, where, we will study war no more.

Yes, a new Kingdom is coming to the world, where, as Isaiah tells us: “...the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end...”

As always, the Psalms are so instructive here, for they often describe with clarity -- using metaphor and parallel thought -- this new world that is breaking into the old. Take, for example, Psalm 98:

Sing a new song to the Lord
for he has worked wonders.
His right and hand his holy arm
have brought salvation.

The Lord has made known his salvation;
has shown his justice to the nations.
He has remembered his truth and love
for the house of Israel.

All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
Shout to the Lord, all the earth,
ring out your joy.

Sing psalms to the Lord with the harp
with the sound of music.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
acclaim the King, the Lord. (The Grail Psalter)

There will be a new day and all the world will see it! There will be a new world where His justice of truth and love will be seen by all. But, of equal importance is the truth that we need not wait for the Kingdom to come to complete and full blossom to know something of its reality now because the Kingdom is not only coming it is also breaking into the world, even as we speak. For the deepest truth contained within Christianity is the belief that God has actually already fulfilled his promises, and that the irreversible fulfillment of all human history has occurred and is in full motion through Jesus, who is the Christ.

This is the power of the Isaiah passage quoted above. Christians assert that the final and complete fulfillment of these prophetic predictions are not found within the person of King Hezekiah, about whom Isaiah was writing, but in the person of the Christ himself -- may He be forever blessed.

That is, what Jesus of Nazareth began with his mysterious birth continues unabated. For Jesus, after all, has come into the world and still remains active through the community he left behind -- the church. A community so flawed that often she is her own worst enemy, but a community none-the-less called and empowered by her LORD to exhibit the reality of the nature of Jesus Christ -- a high ideal indeed.

So we are part of this story as well. Here we are on this little spot of earth, at this particular moment of human history, but that is not nothing, for we have offered ourselves to the King, the one whose Kingdom has come and is coming. We have offered our allegiance and our lives to the one who came into the world just like we did, but who, as it turned out, was God’s total, complete and final word to us. For as the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews reminds us:
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things...”

This is the message of Christmas -- God is at work and so are we. We have been called to pronounce a word to the world and that word is a gigantic, “YES!” There is hate, but God has said YES to the world in His one and only Son. There is selfishness and war and greed in the world, but God has not given up on on us; God has said YES to world in the Christ and this is the one whom we proclaim to you today. Jesus is God’s beloved Son, listen to him!