Sermon for Christmas Eve, Saturday, December 24 2016, 9:00 pm
Mtr. Maggie Helwig, Church of Saint Stephen-in-the-Fields, Toronto
Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-12; John 1:1-14
“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”
That is the extraordinary claim which is staked by Christmas. That is the entirely shocking, entirely revolutionary message, uncontainable by social rituals or holiday songs or even our too-cozy imaginings of mangers and animals. God has broken into the world. And not only into the world, but into our flesh, our bodies, our selves. Nothing can be the same.
It is traditional to kneel, when these words are read, because we should be struck to our knees in amazement. That the infinite love which shaped the cosmos, the divine intelligence which animates all of creation, has made itself so small, a refugee baby in a dangerous time, crying in the night. And only so that love can be with us, be with us intimately, in our bones, in our blood. This baby, born among the poor, born to a frightened young couple alone in a barn.
For the poor human world, such a world as this, is the world God loves enough to join, the world perhap not yet redeemed, but the world redeemable, the world savable, the world worth saving. And we are creatures redeemable, beloved, we are worth saving too. That is what is says, this coming of the Word into flesh. That we, these complicated animals made of meat and dirt and muscle, of mistakes and longings and the ache for beauty, that we are loved by a God who desires us enough to come and be with us, be one of us.
And God comes not in power, but in weakness, an infant wholly dependent on human parents, a cry for care. A man, later, who would walk defenceless in an occupied country, touching the untouchable, breaking bread with those his society had cast away, washing the feet of his friends, doing things which should only be done by slaves or women. One who would challenge the powers of his time so much that they would lash out in violence, one who would accept that violence and respond with love. One who would be called the Son of God, but who would call himself the Son of Man, the child of humanity. The life our human lives have always been meant to be.
Made in the image and likeness of God, we have failed to live up to our intended goodness, our intended beauty. We have been less than loving, less than honest, we have caused hurt when we didn’t even mean to. All too often, we have lost sight of what we could be, of what we are meant to be. But that child in the feed trough has come to be with us, and to bring that image and likeness back to life in us, to heal what is broken, revive what is dead. Calling each one of us to live into what we were created to be, the incomparable, beloved children of God, in all our weakness, in all our poverty, in all our beauty and potential goodness.
And the light shines in the darkness. In occupied Palestine in the days of imperial Roman rule. In our occupied land today, in the time of another empire. The translation we use now says that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. It is not a wrong translation, exactly. But it is not as right as the older translation—“the light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” Has not grasped, cannot hold or control, has not understood and cannot understand. All the evil in this world cannot control or contain the love of God, because it cannot understand it, the love that is self-giving, the love that creates us and through which we create our lives, our relationships, our own truth and loveliness. Hard as it is to hold onto, foolish as it seems, even in the midst of pain and death, love is not wasted. This love that makes itself so small it can be anywhere, in the narrowest places, in the hardest times, in the tiniest, most hopeless movements of our crooked human hearts.
So find that small love, that helpless poor love, in all the hurt places of the world, in that narrow place within yourself. Find that child of humanity in the heart of your emptiness, in your hopelessness, in your sorrow, and cradle the child as Mary did. Let the light be born in the world again today. Care and feed and heal and sing, speak and protest and resist, work and weep and dance. Let this be God’s work within us, always bringing love to birth. For you are beloved. You are worth saving. The child has come for this, for you, for me, for anyone. And this whole world which God spoke into being may yet be redeemed, may yet be truly born.