Matthew 1:18-25 Luke 2:1-20 Rev. Rusty Eidmann-Hicks
Be careful what you ask for…you just might get it! A young soldier sat in a bus station waiting for his bus and feeling sorry for himself. An elderly woman nearby said, “Cheer up, young fellow. It’s Christmas. You know, Santa, ho-ho-ho!” The soldier said, “Let him go ho-ho-ho himself! When I was ten I asked him for a soldier suit. This year I got it!” Some gifts you just don’t want.
God needed to be careful for what God asked for… Christmas at first looked like a rotten deal. Too many complicated personalities and hurt feelings and control issues. Look what happens in just one of the stories of Jesus’ birth stories. Poor Joseph…. Can you imagine how he felt? Mary stops in one day and says, “O Joseph, don’t be upset, but I’m pregnant – Hey it’s OK; it’s God’s baby, not anyone’s in the neighborhood. No need to worry.” Say what? Joseph, by all accounts, was a decent guy, ethical, trustworthy and religious. This was a major kick in the teeth that must have knocked him off his feet. The good news is that Joseph was also kind, and was willing to let go quietly. But even so, it must have torn him up inside. It took an emergency intervention by the angel Gabriel to straighten things out. What a mess. God in Jesus ended up mixed up not only in the muck and mire, but also in the messy zaniness of relationships and conflicts. Be careful what you ask for.
Look how complicated things got later on. God chose to be with really poor folks – not just the rich and famous. Joseph got the guest house at night, with his wife crying with labor pains, only to find the room was occupied. The Greek word translated “inn” in Luke is kataluma, it literally means a guest room, literally “the” guest room of a particular house. And it was taken. Life can be tough. Joseph was out on the street with Mary, whose water probably had just broken. God may have been re-thinking this whole thing; it’s too chaotic!
Yet God remains – God makes it work – God perseveres. Being in love means that we stay, we struggle, and we hang in there. God’s love is so powerful that God is willing to be with the each of us – in our struggles and poverty, in our worst moments when everything around us crashes and burns.
Love transforms. Love finds a way. Love enters in.
About two weeks ago I visited the neo-natal unit at Centra-State Hospital, to see Emily & Brendan, and to witness and pray a blessing over their teeny-weeny baby, Wyatt. The room felt like a quiet chapel, sacred space, filled with the hush of reverence. Leaning down to see baby Wyatt was like looking into life’s deepest mystery – wee little fingers and tiny little toes on a bundle of beauty called a newborn. Here was Wyatt coming directly from heaven, radiating life, breathing, crying, blinking, waving fists and pumping legs. Seeing him was like looking at a holy icon or stained glass window – shining with the wonder and glorious light of God. WOW. Spirit become flesh.
Christmas is a celebration of the “Incarnation,” the divine mystery of love entering into the zaniness and uncertainty of this world. The holy becomes flesh – embodied. God is not an impersonal cloud or mist; God is not lost in space or dwelling in Narnia or Olympus or Hogwarts or Hobbiton – God is here with love and presence. Right here, right now. The kingdom of God is here among us – in the flesh – because God loves us as we are.
Too many people of faith want to split God away from earth or flesh – saying God is pure spirit and is holy, therefore would not want to get dirty or be in pain. Jesus is an expression of the opposite – that God is very willing to get down in the mire and to experience it all – from birth in a manger to death on a cross. God is with us even when we’re not sure how we’re going to pay the rent or find our next job; even when power shifts in elections or friends betray us. In the midst of it all is the promise of God’s saving grace and love – no matter what. Like the north star, this promise runs through the Bible – God is coming in Jesus to save us from our sins, to gather us up into God’s holy love, to forgive us, redeem us, and open our eyes to the good news of life’s immense wonder. The goal of this whole enterprise is joy, the joy that appears when God enters in with immeasurable love.
Soren Kierkegaard, the renowned Danish philosopher and theologian of the early 1800s, spoke of what it means to worship a God who comes to be with us. Kierkegaard told a parable of God’s enduring love. I’m changing this around a bit; his story was about a king and a serving girl; but the point is the same: love finds a way to enter in, if love is strong enough.
The story goes that every day a young man from a wealthy family would eat lunch at a small diner in his neighborhood. He’d stop in to grab a bite – either with friends or alone – and would be entranced by a lovely waitress who took his order.
She was down-to-earth and funny, tough and beautiful; she was everything his stuck-up, mean-spirited family was not. He fell desperately in love. But he had a dilemma. If he let her know how rich he was, it would probably destroy the relationship; she might be entranced by his wealth and prestige, and only see his status, his college degree, and fancy house. More than anything in the world, he wanted her to love him for himself, not for his parents or their money. He couldn’t pull up for a date in a Mazurati or Rolls Royce; it would have to be a beat-up Chevy. He couldn’t take her to DelMonico’s, it would have to be the Olive Garden. He couldn’t take her to Alladin on Broadway, it would have to be pizza and a movie in town.
So, one afternoon he put in an application to work at the diner. He wore faded blue jeans and an old shirt. He couldn’t put down any experience, so he ended up working in the dish room, along with an older Mexican guy. But through a side window, he would look out and see his beloved, and so he worked hard – and looked forward to breaks, when he could sit and watch her, and maybe say a word or two to her. He was awful at dishwashing fast enough, and he took grief from this co-worker and the boss. Eventually, he got better, but also saw how unfair it was how much the boss was paying his co-worker, and how badly the boss treated the girl he loved.
After his shift, he’d wait outside for his girl, and they’d laugh and chat, and he finally got up enough nerve to ask her out to a movie. Over time, she got to know and trust him, as a guy who worked with her at the diner. After a year or so she deeply loved him, until the time came for him to ask her to be his wife. By that time, their love could handle any complications.
God’s love is that deep and that true; God can handle messes. Tonight we celebrate this promise of love; this divine entrance into our chaotic, mixed up, messed up lives. Tonight we celebrate our own imperfect situations, our crazy families, our frustrations, disappointments, fears, and plans that don’t pan out. God offers a simple solution to our convoluted problems: Love. Love hangs in with misunderstandings, love deals with mix-ups and rooms that are occupied, love makes do with run down stables and hurt feelings. Love guides us toward a world of grace, holiness and peace. God with us! Alleluia! Merry Christmas! Amen.