Sermons on incarnate
We all know this Christmas pageant story and we know that the shepherds found the face of salvation in a manger. I often imagine the story is told this way because it was the one place where the shepherds would have felt comfortable – in a stable, with the smell of fresh hay filling their nostrils, with the sounds of the donkeys braying and cows mooing, and sheep bleating, and the animals would have known them. If Jesus had been…
“God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” A common saying. Perhaps you’ve heard it many times in your life, or have even spoken it yourself. It’s a saying I’ve always pushed back against from a place deep within my gut, not necessarily understanding why, until I studied theology, and then I knew why. My image of God doesn’t include someone sitting upon a throne in heaven, dolling out bad things to people at opportune times, with the purpose of disrupting or destroying their lives, always attentive to the balance of good and evil in their lives at any particular moment, so people can be just on the edge of the good— or worse yet, bringing on the bad thing in life to selected people at the worst possible moments of their lives, just when they are starting to turn things around, or when they are spiraling downward. My image of God is a flow of love, a source of desire for goodness for each part of the created world, a pull deep within each one of us for wholeness, and an inherent life-force reaching toward a rich and abundant life designed for everyone, lived within the healing embrace of Christ. So how would I, how do you, reconcile this image of a God who looks at us through eyes of love, with the God conjured up in this popular saying that seems to imply God is actively involved in bringing bad things into our lives?
What makes this reality truth for me, that we are hard-wired to crave God’s blessing and God is hard-wired to give it, is our shared experience at the end of each worship service, when I offer you God’s blessing. It is so clear to me that in that moment, when I lean forward onto the altar, that I peer into your souls with the eyes of God’s heart, and with love from my own heart, and I see the need for blessing deep within you that God does, and I marvel that in those few words I utter, “the blessing of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you always” with the intention of drawing God’s presence near and within each one of us, I know we each are blessed by God. I know that we will each go out from the service, some of us scattering until we meet again next Sunday or next month, some of us coming together in prayer, service, or learning throughout the week, but I know we have been united in a way that does pass all understanding, we have been united as recipients of God’s abounding grace, and we have been blessed, and deep within us, that blessing has met our deepest need. It is one of the truest moments of my week, when I know I am most aligned to God’s desires. We never have to say, as Esau did, “Me too! Give me a blessing too” for we have been given that blessing, not to own, not to hold back from others, but to allow to seep deep within our soul, and touch our deepest need and to be healed.
The baby in the manger means more to us than reaching the outsiders, although that is a core role of the church. It means that Jesus is born for all of God’s people, including those who have been outside so long that they’ve given up on God, those so down in despair, so blue at this time when everyone else is celebrating, those who look in the mirror and wonder who this is who they have become, for it seems to be the worst of themselves. The baby in the manger is the good news we must believe in, as we are sitting in the pews, celebrating and living the good news in Christ. We must believe God is sending angels out into the fields, wherever they may be, hospitals, recovery units, prisons, homeless shelters, refugee camps, cancer units, or into our hearts.
Mary gathers the child in the manger, cradles him sweetly, places kisses on his caressible forehead, then extends her arms and offers him the Christ child. His rough, calloused, gnarled hands caress the sweet, delicate, unblemished skin of the newborn, and his life changes forever. Love incarnate is born within his heart. No longer is there a God “out there”, entering his world to fix it for him. God has come within his heart, guiding, stretching and empowering him to turn the world toward goodness.