Thursday, December 25, 2008

Let Heaven and Nature Sing

Readings: Christmas Day, Proper III, Year B
Hymn: " Joy to the World"

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."

The writer of our Old Testament reading gave expression to the gratitude of his people for a national liberation. The exultation that his people had returned from captivity in Babylon, and that they could now rebuild their ruined capital. Who had made this possible? The Lord! The Lord had returned with his people to Zion, most likely the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where the Lord's Sanctuary had stood. This was the salvation of God. Now God's people could live in peace.

Twenty-eight centuries later, we know it was not to be. The Second Temple was built, and then destroyed by the Romans. Now the Third and Fourth Temples are a pair of mosques, the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa.

But a prophet speaks more than a prophet knows. A prophet speaks to a particular people at a particular time and place, but also to all people of all times and places. Isaiah's words thunder from age to age to us here and now, on Christmas Day. Isaiah speaks not only of salvation from captivity in Babylon, but of the great and glorious Day of the Lord, when, as our Psalmist says, the Lord is coming to judge the earth with righteousness. Not vengeance, mind you. Not "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," but all peoples before the equitable and righteous God. The God who proves his faithfulness to us and his love for us.

The God who becomes born to us as one of us. Who becomes a Son of Man. Who becomes a son to us, a brother, a friend.

As the writer of Hebrews explains, he is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's being. And yet he is one of us. Maybe that's what it means when the Book of Genesis says we are made in the image of God. We are such beings that any one of us can bear God's imprint. Yet we are also such beings that we can become captives to our own desires, to our own errors, to our own pride, to our own sin. God has become this child to set us free from our sin. All of us who have lived or will ever live in all the world.

This morning, over two thousand years ago. Let the seas roar, let the floods clap their hands. Joy to the World! Joy as long as the world lasts, and into the world to come!

The little baby Jesus is the creating and sustaining Word of God made flesh, claims John in his gospel - the light that lights everyone who comes into the world. The light that looks back from behind your eyes. Though you may deny it, though you may doubt it, though you are in some ways a stranger even to yourself, the miracle of God's Incarnation in the infant Jesus is part of the miracle of you.

So you are a miracle, praising and giving thanks for the miracle of the Incarnation of God in Jesus, our Messiah. So what?

Twenty-three years ago, I got my car stuck in mud while trying to find a shortcut to work one cold, wet winter morning. A big, red-haired guy stopped, roped his car to mine, and pulled it onto solid ground. He told me that only a few weeks earlier, he would have passed me by, but since then, he had a "Born Again" experience. He had to stop and help me now, because he was a Christian. I was a little offended, I guess, because I was an atheist at the time. But his help was physical sign of hope in a dark time in my life.

It would take another year before I went to church, but I still think about that guy. He did Gospel.

Merry Christmas! Happy birthday, Jesus!

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