Christ+Mass Eve 2017 The Rev. Robert RM Bagwell+
24th December Feast of the Holy Nativity
In Paul’s letter to the Church in the city of Philippi, the second chapter, we read these words:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2)
This encapsulates the very heart of Christmas: God humbling himself before the human race that He Himself created; God in human flesh; God born in a stable without a midwife, a clean hospital room or any assistance outside of her husband Joseph.
For the last seven months I have attended the twelve step program AA to gain and have gained a lot of very practical spiritual insight. It is clear to me, the wisdom of Fr. Samuel Shoemaker as he placed his hand to the plow of forging this program along with Dr Bob and Bill W. that by God’s grace continues to transform lives across the world. What a wonder that brokenness in the lives of a small group of men birthed healing grace into the lives of millions. This mode of living which I call “12 Step Spirituality” is taken from a paradigm of the life Christ came to give us. A friend of mind said that by way of explanation, that the real task that the founders of AA were trying to deal with was not chemical but spiritual. One of his mentors said that it is really “Spiritual Maladies Anonymous” but if it were called that no one would come!
It will still be a long time before every knee shall bow and every tongue confess His Name, but while we wait that day, he is still reaching out with his healing touch, his tender voice and kindness of understanding. His name foretold: “Emanuel” meaning “God with us.” Rather than the human race reaching out to God, God reaches out to the human race! The Apostle Paul wrote these words: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8 New International Version (NIV)
Something profound occurred. God took notice in the garden. God saw from the beginning with the advent of a granted free will, humanity was “powerless over sin.” God decided to do something about it from the beginning. God sent a Son. You know what you can call this?..an intervention. What occurred on this “Holy Night” was an intervention by the Son of God into a human race careening toward destruction, ultimate and eternal. Interventions are an act of love toward someone cared about deeply. Interventions do not always go well, but Jesus entered into this Divine action willingly and counting the cost. There is an old Christmas hymn called “Ring the Bells” that contains these lyrics: Born to die that man might live Came to earth new life to give Born of Mary, born so low Many years ago. Jesus was born to die. That was the cost. It wasn’t the way man thought it would happen. Humanity didn’t think they needed to be changed inside but “only” appease God in outward ritual.
The Jewish people for centuries had longed for a Messiah, someone who would come and make all things right, just and peaceful. This Messiah would of course make things as “they” would have them. They longed for wholeness, a wholeness that God alone can give.
Bethlehem was so much more than it appeared. We commemorate in many ways, but without Bethlehem, there would not have been a cross. Without a cross, there would not have been a resurrection and without a resurrection, the human race would be doomed to die in its sins. Do not pass go, do not collect eternal life (if you’ve ever played monopoly).
A fascinating aspect of this story is that Jesus, Emanuel, was born in a place where lowly animals ate and slept a place that was dank and smelled no doubt. The first visitors were shepherds who held a very low position on the social scale of the day. What made the King of Kings, the Lord of Heaven and Earth allow himself to be born of a common nobody woman in a place where the animals were kept? It was love. It was the power of His love. His love was power.
Will we let his power move us? Without it, we are powerless. Only Christ a power greater than ourselves can change that. That powerful love acted on our behalf and now we act in response
We do not “act tonight “as though the event was yet to happen. we “recapitulate” this event, at least that is what theologians call it. We live it again. We walk their walk. We talk their talk. We affirm something profound by our presence here– God has come to earth. God has broken through the veil. God has given the most precious of gifts – his only Son. History has been split into the time before HE CAME and the time since HE CAME.
The Christian has also been split in two: the time before Jesus and the time after HE CAME into the heart and live and changed ev. That is why for two thousand years this birth is celebrated. God with us is in us by Jesus and his birth. God is holding us as surely as Mary held the baby. God did something about our dilemma that we both could not and would not solve. That self giving of God would eventually come to a cross.
We speak often of God “acting” in history. Even when things go badly in nature, the insurance companies seek to blame the Creator, by calling catastrophic tragedies, an “act of God.” But on this night, God not only acted in history, God entered history. And God IS HERE. This night began something in the human soul and above all in the human heart. His Name - Jesus - Savior tells us what he came to do. It tells us what we need– God to save us from ourselves, from those things that destroy us and our capacity to live in love. His titles tell us what he came to be for us “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
The wonder of Christmas is God’s giving of God’s own person if we will but open our hearts to receive that person – that love – this JESUS! God has moved – toward us! In the most unthreatening, and the most peaceful of ways, God reaches out to you and me. Not as judge, not as jailer, but with the outstretched arms of an infant. Those open arms still stand tonight. Does that MOVE YOU–TOWARD HIM--toward the light--toward the life--toward the Prince of Peace? I pray that this Christmas will be like no other for you – again Christ Jesus is here. God has given us PEACE. GOD has Moved toward you. May we be moved from our deepest core toward Him.