Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sermon for Sunday December 21, 2008

The other day I got the creche out for our Christmas celebration.

We have been slowly adding items to the Christmas decorations around the church, in the spirit of preparation and waiting that comes with Advent.

We started with hanging the greens and getting the Christmas Tree out. We added the Advent Wreath, and the Crismons. We gathered up the poinsettias and put them around the altar. And today we added the Nativity scene to the altar, complete with the Wise men and their camels off to the side on their way to the manger scene. Baby Jesus was still not in the manger. 

I began to get frustrated and angry when I pulled the pieces of the creche out to place on the altar. They were from two different sets, as told by the fact that a few pieces were glazed and a few were not. The ears of some of the sheep and the donkey were broken, and the baby Jesus was even missing a hand. I began to get the impression that as a church we just didn't care. 

So I was sharing this frustration with my sister who reminded me that we come to Christmas with all of our brokenness that we hold onto. And from this the real swell for this morning's sermon began to build. Because the truth is that we trot out the old broken story time and again at Christmas and place it on the altar.

The story is broken in so many places. We have done great injustices to the story of Jesus' birth. And we continue to do injustice today as we place more and more emphasis on our consumerist ways than on the gift that God has given.

The first part that seems to be broken is when Jesus' birth really occurred and when Christmas should really happen. If we listen to the text this morning from Luke 1:26-38 we hear that in the sixth month the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. We aren't entirely certain whether this was the sixth month of the year or the sixth month of Mary's pregnancy. Traditionally, this date is set as the sixth month of the Jewish year, roughly March 25th. If we assume that Mary was six months pregant at that time Jesus would have been born around June 20th. In a recent article it was proclaimed that it was finally discovered that the birthdate of Jesus was 2BC, on June 18th. This makes sense when one considers that shepherds are not often out in the winter tending the flocks, nor is an Emperor, no matter how powerful, going to send people to their hometowns for a census during the rainy season, which is the winter as well. That doesn't take into account the fact that the angel told Mary that she "will" and she "shall" - future appointments - become pregnant. 

There is even rumor that some of the Bishops of the early church conspired with the Roman Emperor to change the date so as to interfere with Saturnalia, which is the festival of the Winter Solstice, which we celebrate this day, December 21st. So the church decided to Christianize the event and make it sanitized by moving the birth of Christ to December. All that doesn't take seriously the accounts that tell of the December date being used by the church to recognize the birth of Christ dating back to the early apostles. Our timetable is broken.

Our heroine, Mary, is also broken. At least her story is. We have so tried to insulate Mary from sin and the destructive forces that we proclaimed her birth as an "Immaculate Conception" just as with Jesus. Only, we now find that this is just a partial truth to the story. The rest of the story is that Mary was only the product of an "immaculate conception" and the purity it brings by the effect of Jesus' death and resurrection. But, as with so many things this got lost in the translation to the populus. 

My sister was talking to me about this morning and had the response to the angel and the tale told to Mary of "Favored, really? Are you kidding me?" Mary is about 13 years old, pregnant, and married, only the man she's married to has not touched her or had marital relations. She is scheduled to be stoned if the people find out and follow the laws according to Jewish custom. The story of Mary has been broken.

(Bonus material for readers of the blog, but not in the sermon itself) The story of the birth in the Manger is also broken. Luke is the one by whom we learn this story. But, as a mentor of mine taught me Luke as we know it is a mistranslation. We hear that the baby is born in a manger because there is no room in the Inn. Reading back in the Greek we find that the language is such that it reads "the other room". We find the word for Inn elsewhere in the book of Luke, when we hear the story of the good Samaritan. The good Samaritan puts up the injured stranger at the Inn for the night, telling the Innkeper he would be back to pay the bill in the morning. The word we find here is one that denotes the "extra room". 

But moreover, we know that the hospitality laws of the day would not allow for such an event to happen in the "barn" as we have so managed to make this story say. The "mother with child" would be taken into the home. In those days the home was made up of a room for the family sleeping quarters (also called the "other room") and the living room. In the lower end of the living room would be a dug out area with a manger for the animals. this area would house the animals in the cold nights, and would serve as an extra warming agent for the home. Such a layout would allow for Mary and Joseph to find no room in the "other room", and so lay the baby in the manger at birth. Our birth story is broken.

But we too are living with brokenness. We have a broken economy. We have broken stories of drug abuse and addiction. We are living with our own stories of hurt and pain. "My back aches." "My shoulder no longer rotates all the way." Our story is broken.

And while I was unwrapping the creche for our Nativity here at the church, I discovered that among our items was the angel. And I realized there was no place for the Angel. It is the Angel who brings us into the moment, reminding us that there is no place for the unexpected. We need to find a place for the story of the Angel who proclaims "Fear Not".  We need not fear the truth of Santa Claus. We need not fear the story of when Christmas really occurs. We need not fear the dragging economy, or our own brokenness. 

Thankfully, the story of Christmas is not about whether Mary was a virgin, or born of a virgin. Our story is not about when Christmas really occurs, and when Jesus was born. It doesn't matter where he was born, whether it was in a home or a stable, or even which one that claims it was. Our story is made by the birth of the child called Jesus. The Christ child is our hope. The Christ child, the one we are waiting upon is the one who changes everything. He is the one who heals our brokenness and the brokenness of the story. He is the one who heals us from our fears, and brings us into God's House. It is the continuation of the house of Jacob. Jesus is the representation of the line of David and serves as the king to us all. He is the Prophet in the line of Moses, and the Priest in the line Melchizidek, and the King in the line of David. He restores the temple in three days. The temple of Solomon is rebuilt in each of us as we experience the birth of Christ this day in each of us. 

Let us be healed of our brokenness, hear the words of the Angel to "Fear Not" and be born with the Christ child. Amen.


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