“Love came down to empower us in the cosmic struggle between the Good News of love, justice and inclusion, and the Fake News of fear, judgment and discrimination.”
Sermon by Susan Russell at All Saints Church, Pasadena, at the 5:30 p.m. Festive Eucharist on Christmas Eve, Sunday, December 24, 2017.
And the Word became flesh … the scripture tells us
And a weary world rejoices … the hymn sings to us.
Words we’ve sung, said, and heard
(many of us)
for as long as we can remember …
maybe even before we can remember.
on this Christmas Eve,
it is the very familiarity
of these familiar words
that can become their challenge.
It is the challenge to hear them …
to actually hear them …
as words not just describing a once-upon-a-time,
long-long-ago moment to us –
but as words that are for us –
words that are about us
in this time, in this place, in this moment.
It is a very real challenge for us – for me –
because the Christmas story is so familiar
that the amazing impact
of its glorious message
can ironically become lost
to those of us who know it best.
And I don’t want that to happen.
Because the world we live in is too weary, the challenges we face are too great, and the opportunities we have are too enormous for us to claim anything less this Christmas Eve than the full promise of what we gather to celebrate with our prayers and our praises, our hymns and our hopes, our carols and our candles.
What we welcome O Holy Night
is nothing less than the promise of new life
in the birth of this Christmas baby.
We are called to wonder again at the poser of a love great enough to triumph over death as we clai a Christmas Truth greater than any of the traditions it inspires: the mystical longing of the creature for the creator – the finite for the infinite – the human for the divine.
It is a longing that transcend culture, religion, language, and custom –
and it is a longing that is represented for us as Christians
in this Christmas baby all wrapped up in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
The sudden, amazing, and incomprehensible gift of grace:
A God who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how to love one another.
Loved us enough to become human
in order to show us how to become fully human.
Loved us enough to yearn for us to become the creatures we were created to be rather than settle for being the creatures we had become.
Loved us enough to show up in order to change the story.
Earlier this year I heard an interview with a North Carolina woman who was organizing a counter-protest to a white nationalist rally in her community. The reporter asked, “What’s the goal of the counter-protest?”
And the organizer replied: “When we show up we change the story.”
First, I thought, “You go, girl.” And then, I thought, “That’s the Christmas story in a nutshell.
Jesus showed up to change the story. The God who loved us enough to become one with us showed up on Christmas Eve – showed up to show us how to walk in love with God and with one another.
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas
Star and angels gave the sign.
The love that came down at Christmas
changed the story of a human family living in bondage to the fear of death,
and liberated us to live our lives of peace, justice, and compassion.
Love came down to empower us in the cosmic struggle
between the Good News of love, justice, and inclusion
and the Face News of fear, judgment, and discrimination.
The term “Fake News” may have been coined in the last election cycle, but fake news has always been around. It is as ancient as the mythological story of the serpent in the Garden telling the first humans they didn’t need God … they could do it themselves if they just ate from that forbidden tree.
It is woven into the narrative of our spiritual family album in story after story as we chose domination over collaboration, chose our own way over God’s way, chose fear over faith. Cosmic Face News manifests itself in what theologian Walter Wink described as “the domination system” – which operates according to the myth of redemptive violence, entrapping us all in the amazingly self-destructive dynamic of violence responding with violence to violence, and on and on.
Love came down at Christmas to change that story … and on this O Holy Night we are called once again to agents of that change.
We are called to refuse to become the evil that we deplore, to bear witness to the truth that resistance and reconciliation are not mutually exclusive. To steal a line from The Last Jedi, “That’s how we’re gonna win – not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.”
And by remembering that we are called to follow the Jesus who will not rest until there is not a single stranger left at the gate … a single person gathered into the arms of the love that came down at Christmas.
Go ahead. Close your eyes.
Picture the person you would most not want to be in heaven with.
Have you got someone?
OK … That is the very person Jesus won’t rest until he or she is inside the gate … is gathered into the loving embrace of the “kindom” of love, justice, and compassion.
And the way that will happen –
the way the weary world will get there –
is by each and every one of us showing up …
again and again and again …
to change the story.
And if that seems like an impossible, unreachable goal,
hear this story from our sister Rebekah Garcia:
I didn’t want to mom today – so I decided “fake it ’till I make it” was the only way I was going to survive … because who can really handle the life these days with the fires, and politics, and holidays, and the insane amount of crazy swirling around us?
So I took my little guy to the park (while his sisters were in school), and we just hung out. He’s super into good guys and bad guys, and weapons, and fighting, which is exhausting day after day. But I know it’s important work for him, because that’s his way of figuring out how the world works, so I try to let him play.
The park we went to has memorials to those who have died in war, and has a huge canon. We spent some time looking at pictures and names of fallen service members, and then the boy decided to climb onto the canon and start playing war … shooting anything and anyone that went by.
When I asked him why he was shooting at them, he said, “Because it’s war … they’re the bad guys.” I asked him if it was possible to fight a war another way … if we could fill the canon with love and shoot love at people.
He sat there thinking for a minute and started loading the anon. When I asked him what he was putting in there, he said, “Huge love bombs,”
He started by shooting love at random people and cars going by, but pretty soon he was shooting it into the sky, and into space, and having love rain down on everybody everywhere. He started waving at people walking and driving by and making people smile. He said he wanted everyone everywhere to know they are loved.
He wanted everyone everywhere to know they are loved.
Which is, of course, the essence of the Good News of God made present in Christ Jesus; the love come down at Christmas we gather to celebrate tonight. The quintessential message of Christmas was made incarnate by a four-year-old playing in the park because, even though she “didn’t want to mon” that day, his mom showed up and changed the story.
Can I get an Amen?
And so tonight, as we hear the familiar words … as we gather surrounded by light and beauty and music … as we welcome again the promise of new life in the birth of this Christmas baby and wonder again at the power of a love great enough to triumph over death, let us resolve to go and do likewise. To show up in order to change the story – to strive to save what we love – to commit ourselves to both resistance and reconciliation – in what poet Howard Thurman has famously called “The Work of Christmas:”
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins –
To find the lost, to heal the broken
To feed the hungry, to release the prisoner,
To teach the nations, to bring Christ to all
To make music in the heart.
Merry Christmas. Amen.