Sermon at Grace Church
Christmas 2010 (A)
by the Rev. Constance Jones
I gave up wearing high heels when I turned forty.
Whew, what a relief.
It’s taken me much longer to give up trying to be Martha Stewart at Christmas.
Bill and I really worked at Christmas – and joyfully, I think.
We’d take the children and cut a fresh tree
which Bill muscled into a stand,
and then painstakingly tied to little wall hooks with fishing line
so the cats couldn’t topple it over once I decorated it.
There was the Christmas village with lights in the houses and cotton snow,
sugar cookies made with favorite cookie-cutters used only once a year,
and carefully wrapped presents for Christmas morning.
And a house filled with Christmas music – that was his specialty.
What were all these preparations about? Waiting for Santa?
Fulfilling the expectations of Better Homes and Gardens magazine?
Cherishing our children and making family memories for the scrapbooks?
Making a place for the King of kings to be born of a pure virgin,
in my home and my heart?
If Christ were coming to my house, surely I would greet him –
with music and sweet smells and a feast fit for a king,
served on the best china.
But this Christmas I have been marveling at one inescapable detail
of the story of the Nativity of our Lord.
He was born in a stable, and laid in a manger, a food-trough for barn animals.
Now yes, I know many of the details of our image of the “nativity scene”
are legendary accretions,
so hungry have we been over the centuries to fill in the specifics
because this is our Lord and Savior we are talking about.
But unquestionably this is true:
Jesus was born in a very humble setting,
not like royalty.
He did not grow up in a king’s household;
and God knows he was not received by the political or social powers-that-be
as their sovereign ruler.
So let’s just say.............he was born in a stable.
Now why was that? And why should we give thanks for it?
A few simple thoughts before we get on
with the singing and rejoicing and the feasting.
I think Jesus was born in a stable
because he came to bring good news to the poor, not the rich.
He came to bring hope to the poor, the oppressed, and the powerless.
Powerless like a baby..
Powerless like someone nailed to a cross.
Jesus comes today to people whose disease is not curable,
who’ve lost their job and are behind in the rent.
People struggling with addictions or depression, or who are in jail.
Jesus comes to you and me when we are in need,
or when we care for people in need.
He seems more at arm’s length
when we care only about ourselves,
or are feathering our own nest.
Maybe Jesus was born in a stable because the animals were there.
The God who made the universe and every thing in it,
who made camels to have humps and whales to sing,
came to be born among the animals, the natural world.
We who have built big cities
and travel so our feet barely touch the ground
need in our Savior’s name to remember this beautiful earth,
the non-human living things,
our climate and resources,
and be as gentle and mindful as mother Mary.
Jesus was born in a stable because the innkeeper had mercy on Mary and Joseph.
At our children’s Christmas pageant last Sunday,
the script portrayed the innkeeper not as a harsh and unfeeling door-slammer
who barked “No room!”
but as taking kind pity on a frightened, careworn man
and a woman about to give birth –
giving them privacy and a place to lay their child.
I believe that God seldom comes to us
when we are brilliant or successful or receive awards.
But when we show mercy to others, or when we are in need of mercy,
the dear Christ enters in.
Jesus was born in a stable because a stable is a real place,
not an imaginary throne-room, cloud in the sky, or gold-paved city.
A stable is not Valhalla.
Jesus was born into a real time and a real place.
He had a real human body, and he lived in a specific historical context.
He had to contend with politics –
the government of the Roman Empire,
the oppression of the poor, of women, of religious minorities.
Racial and sectarian hatred and violence surrounded him.
Our Lord and Savior lived as humans lived;
the Word was made flesh and dwelled among us,
knowing even every pain that we are subject to.
The infinite gap between heaven and earth was closed, once and for all.
Because Jesus was born in a stable, God is with us now and always.
The stable was not only a real place, but a humble place.
You don’t rule the world from a stable.
You may conquer with an army,
but you can’t conquer much at all surrounded by a bunch of sheep.
Jesus was rejected by those
who expected him to whip an earthly kingdom into shape with a sword.
Even his disciples seem to have expected him
to leave off preaching sacrificial love and humility,
and take up that sword of kingship.
But he did not.
Oh, how the church has consorted with wealth and domination.
How all of us seek success and recognition and our names up in lights.
But it is never Jesus’ way.
We must remember the stable.
The stable was real, and humble, and also ordinary.
It is not in grandness or ethereal places that God comes to us.
Rather, God is incarnated in the small details of life.
In the community of real people – our loved ones, the people we work with.
He comes in crunch situations or dilemmas
or when we are at the end of our rope.
He comes as unexpected joy piercing the darkness –
a prayer is uttered and a butterfly alights on a flower.
Is yours a Martha Stewart, Hallmark Christmas,
with all the family gathered, nobody misbehaving,
the presents just right and the turkey the right shade of brown?
Am I the only one who.................?
But, my friends, this place you are in, this reality,
no matter what it truly is,
is the place the dear Christ will enter into.
And that is our reason to join in the heavenly chorus of Glorias.
Be at the ready for his coming.
Guard your heart to protect his presence with you.
The world is still cold and mean.
But it is true, not only is the home of God among mortals,
but God is coming to you.
To claim you as his own,
to make you an instrument of his peace and his justice,
to make you one with him in his sacrifice.
To abide with you forever.
Gloria in excelsis deo!