The first comes from Luke 2:1-7.
If you grew up in the church, then this story is a familiar one. It is our claim to fame. The infamous birth story of Jesus that marks the end of our Advent wait.
The story continues out in the fields with a heavenly announcement made to some lowly shepherds – an angelic proclamation of God’s promise has finally been fulfilled! The Messiah has come, bringing good news to the poor and weak. God has heard the cries and has sent a savior. A new king has been born. One who will reign with justice and bring peace on earth.
Of course, if you read the rest of Luke’s gospel, you’ll see that not everyone sees this as good news. Unlikely political and religious alliances will be formed to stop this child from living into his destiny. There’s more to the Christmas story than just a baby sleeping in a manger. Wrapped inside that swaddling cloth is an enigma sent to disrupt the world as we know it. For that, Mary’s child will die.
Our second reading comes from Luke 23:44-49; 24:1-5
Jesus’ death was a shock to his followers. A massive disruption to their cause to say the least. We are lucky enough to know Christ’s death is not the end of the story. But they don’t know that God is still at work. They don’t realize that Christmas and Easter are one in the same groundbreaking and earth-shattering action of God who has come to us, to redeem and restore us. Two events, yet one gift.
Like life and death, you can’t accept one without facing the reality of the other. I know, this isn’t the usual nativity story we are used to hearing this time of year. The kind we interrupt with carols and children dressed up like animals forgetting their lines. But under the glitter and sparkly productions, it’s easy to forget that Christmas makes Easter possible.
We gather together, in this space of Anamesa, not just to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Or to recall his death. We gather to remember his resurrection. The culmination of God’s great gift given to the world.
As a father, I like to wonder what God was feeling seeing this helpless and vulnerable newborn baby? Did God cry, like I did when I met my three kids for the first time? When my first child was born, I really lost it. Not because I was scared or nervous, I was. I stood there weeping and sobbing uncontrollably, because for the first time in my life I really felt, and truly understood, unconditional love. So I can imagine God shed some wonderful tears of joy meeting this baby. In fact, I like to think God cries tears of joy when each one of us is born.
But as I stood there in that hospital room, life all of a sudden got very real. Given the fact we didn’t know the gender of our baby until she was born, the immense joy I was feeling all of a sudden was disrupted by the realization that she’s going to date! Then this fear that something bad could happen to this precious life overwhelmed me. When they finally handed me the baby, I held onto her and never wanted to let her go.
Again, I imagine God, who knows what the world is capable of, embraces us with a love that is so fierce and intense that it’s impossible to let us go. It’s safe to assume that God’s tears of joy are also mingled tears of sorrow – knowing what this small and fragile child will eventually endure to be the gift he was called to be. A gift that is greater than life itself.
In order for the world to be reclaimed and redeem and restored, this child must die. Christmas makes Easter not only possible, but also inevitable.
While the first Christmas present was placed in a manger, our Easter present was placed in a grave. Only when we go to open that gift, we don’t find socks and sweaters. We don’t even find a baby or a body of any kind. Instead, we only find an empty tomb.
That is the real gift of Christ, who emptied himself on the cross as a wonderful act of unconditional love making it possible for us to be redeemed, restored and renewed in our full fellowship with God. So, you see, the whole story of the Incarnation is not so much that God came to be with us, but that in Christ, we can be with God – always and forever. Just as Christmas makes Easter inevitable. Easter makes Christmas meaningful. Two separate presents, but one gift.
The gift is Christ, who calls us to walk with him into the sacred and holy space between the crib and the cross. When we walk with Christ, we are walking with God. When we walk with God there will always be peace around us, joy within us, and love and hope illuminating the way. Thanks to Christ, the darkness of the world is overpowered.
Thus, we light the Christ candle last, to reminds us of the true light that God brought into this world. A light to guide our way out of the shadows of evil that are all around us. A light to illuminate through us to help others navigate their way back to God’s steadfast and unconditional love. The closer we walk with Jesus in this light, the more we become like him.
While this gives us reason to celebrate tonight, it is not good news to everyone. The more we mirror Christ and reflect his light, the more of a threat we become to the world, whose only weapon is death. Christmas is our reminder that in the incarnate Christ, God interrupts the world. And God continues to move and disrupt through the Easter resurrection so that death is no longer a threat. It has lost its sting.
Just as God moves … so shall we…together in the space between. And so I send you out into the world tonight, illuminating the way of Jesus Christ, our Emmanuel, the light of the world, given to us. God’s greatest disruption. God’s greatest gift.
The One we can open every day and still be surprised by what we find. Everything. And nothing. Two presents but one great gift.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”