"A Christmas Message"
Scripture - Luke 2:1-20
Sermon Preached by Gregory Knox Jones
Tuesday, December 24, 2013

You may have seen the YouTube video in which children of St. Paul's Church in Auckland, New Zealand, imagine what was going on in heaven immediately prior to the birth of Jesus. Entitled "An Unexpected Christmas," this video begins with God sitting in the midst of heaven's fluffy clouds peering down on earth through a telescope and sighing over what is taking place. The child playing the role of God says, "It's hard to be friends with people when you don't like what they are doing. I think it's time."

A tiny angel with a very high voice peeps, "Time for what, Lord?"

God replies, "Time for us to step in."

Immediately an angel swings into the heavenly scene on a rope and says enthusiastically, "Yes, let's send an army."

God replies, "No, I don't think we should send an army. Maybe just one person."

The army-advocating angel says, "Lord, if you're just sending one person, let it be someone very powerful and very strong."

"No," God says, "No need to be strong. I'll send a newborn baby." Stunned by God's plan, two angels in unison shout, "A newborn baby?

A very small angel wearing Harry Potter glasses says, "Brilliant. They won't be expecting a baby."

But an older angel going back and forth on a swing says, "Lord, this plan is rather risky; a newborn human baby is small. This baby will need to be born to people who will protect it; maybe to a great ruler or a mighty king."

"Actually," God says, "I could send the baby to a young peasant girl whose heart is beautiful and full of courage."

The angel on the swing tries to talk God out of this plan. She says, "Lord, I see your plan is to take earth by surprise. No one will be expecting a newborn baby born to a humble villager. But what good can a baby do?"

God says, "This won't be just any baby; I'm sending the Prince of Heaven."

The angels are aghast. "The Prince of Heaven? Your son?"

Another angel speaks up: "Lord, this plan is too risky. Surely our Prince cannot be born in a peasant's cottage. He should be born in a palace."

God says, "You're right, he shouldn't be born in a cottage. He will be born in a stable."

The heavenly hosts are horrified and say in unison, "A stable? Surrounded by animals?"

A precious little girl angel pops up and says, "Lord, how will people know he is there? What if they do not notice?"

The video reminds us of the preposterous nature of God's plan and the tremendous odds against it succeeding unless God is behind it.

I'm afraid I might have sided with the reasonable angel who tried to talk God out of such a risky endeavor. If people are not treating one another with respect, if people are more intent on securing material possessions than spreading justice, if people are pursuing vengeance more than forgiveness, violence more than peace, then sending an army seems to be the smart way to deal with the recalcitrant behavior.

We live in troubling times. Since the Enlightenment, many have believed the myth that if we simply shake off the claims of religion and chart our course by the compass of reason, we will usher in a new age void of poverty, void of war and absent all that works against human flourishing. The modern world view ushered in advances in science and technology which have improved our standard of living, but it also propelled monstrous ways for us to annihilate one another, the ravaging of the natural world, the fragmentation of society and the alienation of individuals. Surely by now we have figured out that our world will not be healed by logic and reason. Human beings flourish when there is a change in the human heart.

Our celebration of the birth of Jesus rejoices in our faith that God is incarnate in the world. God's Spirit permeates all of creation and God is present everywhere. There are even traces of God in you and in me. Yet, God was incarnate in a distinctive way in the babe of Bethlehem. God's Spirit was active and alive in Jesus as no other. That is why when we look at Jesus, we garner the best glimpse we can capture of God. And Jesus confirms what the Jewish Scriptures taught for centuries before him - that God is just and God is loving. But Jesus placed the accent mark so that it decidedly fell on God as love. God's justice, God's commands, God's forgiveness, God's guidance -everything about God - exudes from God's love.

God did not send in an army to save the world because God knows that the greatest power is not coercive force. The greatest power is love, because love possesses the power to transform. God can transform someone who spreads mayhem into a person devoted to creating beauty. God can transform someone intent on destruction into a champion of peace. God can transform a heart of greed into a generous spirit. When people are touched by God's love and their lives are guided by that love, people's lives are transformed and the world is healed.

German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was imprisoned by the Nazis and eventually hanged, but on the Christmas before he died, Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to his fiancée from his prison cell. He wrote: "Dear Maria, I think that we are going to have an exceptionally good Christmas...I used to be very fond of thinking up and giving presents, but now that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious: the emptier our hands, the better we understand...The poorer our quarter, the more clearly we perceive that our hearts should be Christ's home on earth."

Two thousand years ago a babe was born in Bethlehem. But the celebration of that birth would have run out of steam long ago if we were only celebrating the birth of God into our world as a one time event. Christ continues to be born in the human heart whenever we:

Weep with a friend who grieves the loss of their dear one;
Work for justice for those being oppressed;
Visit someone who is lonely;
Forgive someone who has wronged us;
Show respect to someone with whom we disagree;
Build bridges between people of different races and religions;
Sit with someone who is in the final stages of life.

God conceived an unthinkable plan to hatch hope in our world. Open your heart this night so that Christ may be born in you.