There are two stories that inform our celebration of Christmas. The first one, of course, is Santa Claus. And what’s not to like about Santa? Santa Claus is cheery, indulgent, gives gifts without any expectations, and is the perfect house guest— he arrives, drops presents, and then leaves after only about 10 minutes. You don’t even need a clean house for his arrival.
But when he’s gone, he’s gone. And even a few hours later, if your house is anything like mine, the excitement of opening the presents has been displaced by fatigue from too much candy and crabby kids and adults who need a nap.
The other story of Christmas, as we hear from the Gospel of Luke, is not a story meant to cheer us up in the middle of the winter blues. It’s not a story of technological gifts or piled up riches or indulgence of rich foods. Instead, it speaks to the true hungers in our lives. It’s a story that sticks with us long after we put the nativity away, because it tugs at the dreams we have for our world; the hopes we hold for ourselves; and it holds within it the very essence of who God is.
The people of the Bible, Abraham’s lineage and the Kings and the prophets all try to tell us throughout Scripture who God is. And their descriptions are vast— the Bible is truly a wonderful collage of descriptors about God— from mighty and powerful to merciful and just; from strong and loud like the wind to soft and quiet like our very breath.
But here, tonight, we get to see how it is that God describes God’s self. For here, in Je-sus we see how God chose to come into the world— as a vulnerable baby.
It’s a story that never gets told too many times, because it’s about a world not so differ-ent from our own. How much of our news is filled with things we should be fearful of. Mary and Joseph live in a world like ours in many ways. It is a world that is violent, judgmental, and fearful. As with all superpowers, the Romans are afraid of losing their control, their power, so Emperor Augustus decides to make sure that everyone registers in their own hometown— after all, you can’t be in control of people unless you know where they are. So Mary and Joseph set out. Not on a winter vacation, not to visit rela-tives, not even to get away before the baby is born. They set out on a mandated trip on dangerous roads in the most inconvenient time there was— right when Mary was due to have a child. There are no medical excuses or ways to get out of this edict. This is a dictatorship after all, so they go. They walk day after day after day, and when they arrive, there is no room for them anywhere— for they are just two people among all of the people who have come to register in Bethlehem.
For those of you who are parents, you know that there are never convenient times to have children. But for Mary and Joseph, this must’ve been the most inconvenient time they could think of. And for years I have wondered, why then, Lord? Why was it neces-sary for Jesus to come right then? This year, however, it struck me that if we look at it from God’s perspective, the time was never convenient either. When is it ever conven-ient to send your son into a place of such darkness? When has our world ever been at peace for more than fifteen minutes so that God could send Jesus into a different kind of world?
We tend to focus on God being all powerful and mighty and strong and omnipresent. But the part of God’s self that God chooses to reveal in Jesus, is quite different. Jesus comes as God’s own son, not born to a military leader who will think he can keep him absolutely safe; not born into a rich family that will think they can protect him from life’s troubles; not born into a famous family that will believe that their name will protect him. Jesus is born into one of the most vulnerable situations we could ever fathom— he is born to an unwed teenage mother, to a father who knows it is not his child, and as a refugee in a town where the King will soon search him out as a threat to the kingdom.
In Jesus God wants us to see God’s own self— humble, vulnerable, loving, dignified, honest, peaceful, patient, kind. As Jesus grows into adulthood, we will see that he is respected and loved by his followers not because he fixes all of their problems or fights all of their enemies, but precisely because he loves them for who they are; expects the best from them; treats all people with dignity; and lives a life fully grounded in sharing God’s love to everyone.
God’s great risk is that Jesus came to earth at all— the ending is uncertain; the conse-quences great; and yet Christ came. God’s great risk continuously in our lives is that vulnerability is stronger than dominance; peace is more influential than war; love is more powerful than hate.
We can see it from the very beginning. The angels choose to go to the shepherds— not the high and mighty— to share the good news. God chooses Mary, a faithful peasant girl, who is young enough to be open to this grand miracle inside of her. And humble Joseph couldn’t have been too prideful or he would’ve broken off the engagement when he found out about the pregnancy. None of them are living in a perfect world; or a peaceful world; or a safe world.
And God comes anyway. God chooses to risk it all with those people willing to be vul-nerable who are open to receiving and sharing God’s Word. And God didn’t stop there. God risks everything each and every day with you and with me, inviting us to be part of sharing God’s light. Because that’s who God is.
The light of God came into the world and the darkness did not overcome it. The light of God continues to come into this world, over and over again. May we be bearers of that light by sharing our own vulnerability with each other. May we be bearers of that light by sharing God’s love with this world. May we risk ourselves so that we can truly bear the light of Christ tonight and tomorrow and in the new year.