Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas! John 1:1-14

Merry Christmas!  

John 1:1-14

Last night we heard the classic story of Mary and Joseph and their trip to Bethlehem.  We heard about the Angels and the Shepherds, and we heard about the young baby Jesus being born in a stable.  This is the story we sing about, the story of a baby born in a stable, lying in a manger.  

 It is a story about the cold political power of the elite that cares only about counting how many people and how much money it has control over.  It is a story about indifference that would leave a pregnant woman to give birth to a child outside in a stable.  It is a story of good news to those outside of society.  The shepherds who spend their nights outside the city gates, with only their flocks and each other for company, these forgotten men who wander the hillsides, they are the ones who get visited by angels, and have no choice but to go and see this miracle child for themselves.  They did not understand fully what they were seeing that night.  They knew the baby was special because the angels told them so, and they were amazed by what they had experienced that night, but how could they really comprehend who this little baby was?  Mary, as she looked down at her son, she alone would hold the shepherds’ story in her heart and wonder at what it all really meant, but could she really understand, could anyone?  

The story of Jesus’ birth is a very human story told from a human perspective.  But there is another perspective, a perspective that can never really be understood because it is not a human perspective.

So today we pull way back, back before Mary becomes pregnant, back before King David or Abraham were born, back before men walked the earth at all, before the world began, before the universe even existed.  Back before there was time.  We even go back before there were angels or heaven.  Today we go all the way back to the very beginning.  

Back then there was God. 

 And that is all we can really say because God by God’s self is completely beyond our human comprehension, beyond the descriptive ability of our language.  But God chose to create, we know that much.  And God spoke creation into being.  ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.  He spoke the earth and the stars into existence and everything that is on the earth.  And he spoke us into existence too.  God’s Word, God’s creative force, God’s very expression of God’s self, not separate from God, but God entirely and completely, this is who was born to Mary, wrapped in swaddling bands and laid in a manger almost two thousand years ago.  God.

In Christ the unimaginable, the incomprehensible becomes visible.  We do not need to speculate about who God is (though I’m sure we will continue to do so) all we need to know about God is shown to us in Jesus, and through the lens of Christ we are better able to recognize God when we see him in the people and the world around us.
We are amazed at God’s willingness to lower himself, to reach down and bind himself to human flesh.  We marvel at this because we think of it as something God does in-spite of himself, but the true marvel is that God reaches downward towards us because that is God’s nature.  In Jesus God’s love is revealed, not as some distant cold love but love that is personal and tangible, Love that gives of itself completely.  This is what perfection really looks like; this is who God is.  And this is the image that we were made in.   

Jesus shows us God in his divinity, but in his humanity Jesus shows us who we are too.  In Christ we see what it means to be fully human.  We see that our nature is not unlike God’s, to reach out from ourselves as God reached out; we are meant to love like God loves, not a cold theoretical sort of Love, but a relational love of sacrifice and self offering.  

In Christ we can see where our true nature meets the nature of God.  Christ is the true light, he does not just shed a spotlight on God, so that we might know our creator but came to shine a light on us as well, so that we might know ourselves.  

Saint Athanasius said “God became man so that man might become God”.  Though I have read this statement a hundred times, and studied at length what it might mean, I am always surprised by it.  It is an eye opening statement.  Perhaps this is what is meant when John says, “to all who receive him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of the blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”  Our true belief is belief that does not just reside inside our heads, but flows through our veins and lives in our hearts, and most of all is expressed in our lives and uncovers in us who we truly are, who God made us to be. 

I think perhaps there is this idea that striving to be like Christ is to try and be less human.  But the truth is, the more like Christ we let ourselves be, the more human we become.  

That is the miracle proclaimed to the shepherds, and the mystery pondered in Mary’s heart.  That is the incarnation of God in this world, the miracle and mystery that we should always try to keep with us in our hearts and minds not just today but everyday.  In Jesus, born a fragile human child, all that is truly God and all that is truly human is revealed to us.  And for this we should sing to the Lord a new song, for he has surely done marvelous things!


Sunday, December 22, 2013

An Angel, an illegitimate baby and a twelve year old girl get on a roller coaster...

 Sunday Sermon
Matthew 1:18-25

When I was 12 my sister took me on my first roller coaster. 
The coaster she had chosen was called “the American Eagle” and it looked to be the most terrifying of all the roller coasters at the theme park.
It was this enormous old wooden roller coaster that that I had serious misgivings about. 
Still, I didn’t want to be a coward, so I went.
I remember quite vividly those moments before the ride started. 
There was no shoulder harness, just rickety metal lap bar which only went down as far as the largest person in the two person car, so needless to say it did not fit snuggly across my lap.
There was a handle bar in front of me that I could just barely reach and so I stretched my arms out as far as I could and gripped that handlebar for dear life.
And from the moment that car started to move to the time it stopped I clung to the handlebar, with my eyes tightly shut and I screamed at the top of my lungs.
Once the ride stopped I realized it really hadn’t been that bad after all. 
The problem is of course I hadn’t really let myself experience the ride at all.
 I did everything I could to distract myself from being scared only to discover that I also distracted myself from anything exciting or fun about the ride as well. 
And while I can say that I rode the American Eagle that day, I can’t really say that I was courageous about it, or that I had truly experienced the ride at all.
This, I think is very close to our general reaction to the unknown, if we can we avoid interacting with what might be considered as scary.  We do our best to control our environment by holding on to what we think is secure and by trying not to see or hear those unknown things that we fear.
In today’s Gospel Joseph is challenged by God to face the unknown with faith and courage.
There is a reason that every time an angel appears in the gospel we hear him say “do not be afraid”.
It is not just that an angel is a rather awe inspiring and terrifying figure to behold, though surely that is true. 
But the message he brings is sure to be something that requires courage. 
If an angel ever approaches you and the first thing he says is “do not be afraid” be prepared to be taken on the ride of your life.
Both Joseph and Mary discovered this when God chose them to be his human parents. 
I am sure they had their own plans, plans to consummate their marriage in the normal way, plans to live a normal life in Nazareth with normal children.  These plans probably did not include an ill-timed pregnancy and potential social disgrace. 
But God does not play by our rules. He is not bound by our social expectations. 
God has his own timetable, and he knows what is truly important in this world, and he knows what we are truly capable of doing. 
It is for us to answer God’s call. 
But as we all know, this is not really all that easy to do, because it means giving up our illusions that we are actually in control of our own lives.
There is something about us that desperately wants to be able to know what is going to happen. 
We want to plan out our own future, we want to be in control of our own destiny. 
And yet there is a part of all of us that knows, deep down that we are not really in control, that God is calling us out of our comfort zone and into the unknown, and that can be truly terrifying to come to terms with. 
So we try to distract ourselves, we close our eyes so we cannot see what God is actually showing us, we make as much noise as possible in order to block out God’s call, and we hold on as tightly as we can to our own power, our own agendas. 
What makes Joseph so wonderful is that, like Mary, he said yes to God. 
He had to have been afraid; by staying with Mary he was risking his own honor and reputation. 
Marriage was a very public act. 
It would have been pretty easy for their community to figure out that Mary had gotten pregnant before Joseph had taken her into his house. 
As good, pious, first century Jews this would have caused them a scandal. 
So, I’m sure Joseph had misgivings, but when God called to him in his dream, Joseph did not plug his ears, or look away. 
He trusted that, even in the midst of uncertainty, shame and fear, the divine presence is always going to be there, that God’s love will prevail. 
Imagine the wonder and amazing joy Joseph must have experienced when he made that choice, that simple and yet courageous choice to say yes to God? 
To be there guiding and protecting Jesus as he grew into a man, to be the earthly father of both his and our God made incarnate in the world – Joseph could never have planned or foreseen such an amazing future as the one God had given him.

Eventually I got back on that Roller Coasters and other ones as well, as the roller coaster starts I still get scared, every time, but eventually I learned to open my eyes, put up my hands and enjoy the freedom and excitement that comes with simply letting go.
And I will admit to you that there is nothing more joy inducing for me than a ride on a roller coaster. 
The question is, can we do this with our relationship with God?  Can we let ourselves experience the unknown that God is calling us to experience? 
Can we follow Joseph’s example and despite all of our misgivings say yes to God?
It is unlikely that we will be approached by an angel, but God is still asking us to do something new in the world.  Perhaps it is something as simple as involvement in a charity, or it could be a call to completely change the direction of your life.  The small voice inside that we try to ignore, the one that wants to disrupt our comfort and make us get up and go and do something new, something different, that is the angel of the Lord.

Like a roller coaster ride, a relationship with God can be terrifying, it is filled with twists and turns and we do not get to choose where the ride goes, but it also promises an overflowing of joy unlike any we could possibly imagine.