A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Includes Those of a Different Faith

Sometimes it is only while speaking a sermon to a congregation when I realize exactly how it must sound.  So, when I began to speak on Christmas Eve, I thought of Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory.  I thought of the episode where Amy is trying to break Sheldon's obsession with closure.  If anyone in my congregation had an overwhelming need for closure I gave them just a few moments of torture as I read just a few versus of scripture and then stopped, with no warning.  I would say a few words then launch into more scripture, stopping again with no warning.  Hopefully it wasn't too painful for anyone.  Anyway, I thought I would share the words here, to share a message of love for all people on this Christmas Day.  

(I began with just the first five verses of Luke 2, just to when it says Mary was expecting a child.)

No I didn’t forget the rest of the reading but I want to pause here for a moment.  In recent weeks we have turned our attention within the church to anticipation.  During the season of Advent, preceding Christmas, we anticipate the coming of a babe in a manger and Jesus’ second coming when God’s love and justice will be fully realized.  Now we stand on the brink, on the edge of the moment when Christ comes as a baby.  For just a few moments more let us remain here on the edge, anticipating a birth.  In some ways this is where we live, in a time when God’s love has been shown to us but still waiting for that love to come in a new way and wash away all sorrow, sin, and pain. 

 So far what we have read consists in the naming of many people and places.  Much of the story we read from Luke serves to remind us Christmas is not about generalities.  It is not about God’s love being present in all babies everywhere but rather about God’s love being present in a new and particular way in the form of a baby born in a particular town on a particular day.  And yet as we hear the details of the story unfold we find the story of this particular event draws for us a larger picture in which each and every part of humanity is claimed as beloved. The Gospel of Luke records:

(Here I read vs. 6-7 about Mary giving birth)

Such a simple statement of the birth of a child.  Going unspoken are the realities which unite this child, God made flesh, with untold millions.  Child birth was a dangerous undertaking in the particular time and place of Jesus’ birth as it is for millions of people still to this day.  The danger to the life of the mother and the life of the child has been lethal time beyond measure.  We also believe, from a variety of evidence, this child was likely born into a family of little wealth.  Poverty brings its own dangers.  In such circumstances and with such dangers God’s love is made flesh in a way which unites him with the poor and the vulnerable. The Gospel of Luke continues:

(Here I read vs. 8-14 about the shepherds receiving a visit from angels announcing Jesus' birth and telling them where to find him.)

The first to hear of the birth of Jesus were shepherds, hard working, sweaty, dirty shepherds.  And the messengers tell the shepherds this good news is for all people.  So much good news in our world tends to be good for those with power and money and the rest get buffeted about by the costs from war and violence to turmoil and hardship.  But this good news is for all people, even shepherds in a field, average workers.  And this good news is also a call for peace, this call has particular poignancy for the vulnerable and the workers who are often bear the bulk of the burden of war and strife.  Luke goes on to say:

(Finally I read the rest of the reading: the shepherds visit Jesus and tell of the angels message and Mary ponders it all.)

Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”  This seems a foreshadowing, a reminder of all that is to come.  With events on the news and closer to home it is hard to hear these words and not think of what would happen to Mary’s heart as she watched her son be tortured and killed.  One can not help but think of all parents who have wailed for children.  But first the good news of God’s love made flesh will be woven throughout all of God’s people in the days ahead.  For example, while the babe in a manger is still a babe we will hear of the magi who visited Jesus and brought him lavish gifts.  Among the first to honor Jesus were foreigners, who were also wealthy, practitioners of a different religion.  Within a few versus the life of Jesus intertwines and claims as beloved those living in danger, mothers and children, the poor and the vulnerable, the workers, those who mourn or suffer violence and the wealthy, foreigners, and people of a different faith.  From such beginnings it is clear the love of God is intended for all people.  From such beginnings we can see there is no room left for our prejudices and judgments.  From such beginnings God’s love is made flesh in this one particular babe in this one particular place and yet that love washes over all our differences not to erase them but to claim them as holy, to claim us as holy and beloved each and every one.  The love of God made flesh, coming to us as a babe in a manger for the sake of all people.  This is the good news of Christmas.  Amen. 

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