The Lord is Come: Incarnate Joy, Luke 2:1-20
First United Methodist Church, December 24, 2019
Pastor Toni Carmer
Over the past several weeks in worship—and now tonight—we’ve been lighting candles, singing carols, listening to the words and poetry of the prophets, passed down through the ages, preparing ourselves for the birth of Jesus: for the coming of God in the flesh into our lives and our world.
It has been a joyful time, a busy time as it always is, as we try to do too much in too short of a time frame. This year I was giving thanks that Thanksgiving was a week later than usual, until I realized that gave us less time in Advent to prepare. Still, we want everything to be just right! We want to be ready!! We want to really hear the words of scripture, that are almost magical to our ears. As we listen to the words we can perhaps remember those days when we ourselves played a role in the Christmas pageant (I still remember very clearly when I was chosen to be Mary when I was in the 3rd grade. That happened because I was the only little girl who remembered to bring her baby doll to church. I remember holding her close, feeling so proud, understanding the seriousness of both our roles. And I’ve just learned that Scott also played Mary when he was in the 3rd grade! It was Cub Scouts, his mom was Den mother, no one else volunteered. Need I say more?) Or maybe you’ve held your breath as your child or your grandchild wiggled around up front in front of God and everybody, and you wondered if he or she would remember their lines, or perhaps be so distracted they’d trip over their trailing angel dress or shepherd robe, and fall down a step or two, bringing the whole manger scene to a rather chaotic end rather than a peaceful one.
We read the words and they’re beautiful to us, filled with memories. But even more important than the memories, the words carry us beyond ourselves and into the ways of God, which hold promise, hope, expectation—and ultimately joy. We could use a little bit more of each of these in our world today.
Perhaps tonight we come with questions. For so many of us, the question is less “Is there a God?” than “Who is God?” and “What does God expect out of us?”, or more specifically, “What does God expect of me?” Or perhaps the questions are even more personal: “Does God care about me? About my life? About what I’m dealing with? About what’s hurting in my heart and soul?”
They’re questions that trouble us because there is this gap between who God is and who we are that make it impossible for us on our own to accurately conceive of our creator. Can finite minds grasp the infinite?
We might work really hard in an attempt to climb to God, through our reasoning, our spiritual experiences, devout practices and strict religious upbringing. There’s a word for a god who is accessible through our efforts—it’s called an idol. An idol is a reasonable, believable, conceivable—but sadly, fake god, that we set up as a substitute for the God we’re unable to reach from here.
But our Christian faith assures us—and this is the mystery that gathers us together tonight—that the infinite has descended, taking the form of our finitude, taking on our humanity, taking on our mortality: God came to us as the babe of Bethlehem.
God isn’t over and above us, unreachable, and beyond our comprehension—but that babe of Bethlehem grew up and became Jesus the wandering teacher, healer, and disciple-maker. He wasn’t a disembodied spirit fluttering above human life. Clearly, he cared about real people who were caught in real, earthly, human binds—where there are babies to be born, bills to be paid, supper to be prepared and children to be raised. He gathered disciples and embraced the hungry multitudes. He healed the sick, cast out demons and invited ordinary people to walk with him. When he saw hunger, he offered bread. When the wine ran out, he made some more! Rather than providing an escape route out of this world, he intruded into the full human condition, modeling a new way of living in this world.
What we read in scripture doesn’t begin “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” but Jesus lived in a real time with real people, as in tonight’s scripture when we’re told that his birth occurred during the reign of Caesar Augustus and mentions real places like Bethlehem and Golgotha. He not only brought a message that was addressed to real people and their real people problems, but he fully embodied that message in his life in this real world. He showed us that his kingdom was no fantasy land, but a place to be lived here and now.
God up close and personal.
God loving us enough to show God to us.
God came down to us: Gave Godself to us.
In the flesh.
That’s the good news of Christmas.