Monday, December 28, 2009

Dec. 20 Sermon, Let it Be

MIcah and Luke

What is Christmas about? If we were to rely on a sampling on the street we may hear a number of things. We should probably excuse a child for latching onto the excitement surrounding Santa and presents under the tree. It wouldn’t surprise me if my own son, despite a steady diet of hearing about the “true meaning of Christmas” and playing with nativities, said that Christmas is “about” Santa Clause.

That doesn’t bother me coming from a four year old. I can understand, can’t you. After all, Christmas—what we call Christmas, is perhaps MORE about Santa than it is about the Christ child born in a stable.

I don’t have a problem with pop-culture Christmas. I love it. I love “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and “Here we go a wassailing.” I enjoy seeing Christmas lights and Dept. 56 Christmas villages of all sorts. I sort of enjoy finding new presents for my family and trying to think of something I’d like to receive. I’m no Grinch.

I’m not bothered by people saying “X-mas” or saying “Happy Holidays” instead of Merry Christmas, and may I suggest that if that is the deepest source of your “ire” about some kind of secular culture hijacking the holiday, you might do better to dig a little deeper. For one thing, the X in Xmas is merely a conflation of Greek and English, and no, it’s not an “X” indicating some kind of meaningless, non-defined integer, such as x=y/z X stands for the greek letter Chi, which is where we get the letter X and looks like an X, and in Greek is the first letter to Christ. Secondly, Happy Holidays does not deny that the days are holy, but instead it affirms it. A Holiday is a holy day. And if you’re bothered by the plural of “holiday” referring to anything other than Christmas, there are other faiths’ holy days at this time of year, but still, if that fact bothers you and you want to pretend that you live in a “Christian Nation,” (which the USA is most certainly NOT, by virtue of our Constitution) then you can just think to yourself that those people wishing you “Happy Holidays” are simply referring to the 12 days of the Christmas Season. If you fail to grasp that there are 12 days to Christmas, then you are probably confusing pop-secular-Christmas with the Holy season known as Christmas.

So, those things don’t bother me. I’m fine with Santa and Jesus. And I hope you are too. But, if we did want to be the Grinch, and strip everything away from the season, as he does in Dr. Seus’s wonderful Christmas special. After we pulled all the Christmas trees up chimneys and took down the garland and lights, What would be left? Would we “whos” be standing in a circle around some glowing light singing

Welcome, welcome, fahoo ramus
Welcome, welcome, dahoo damus
Christmas Day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to clasp

Well, maybe Christmas, after all, doesn’t come from store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

And here’s something perhaps a little more difficult: As we reconstructed Christmas around the simple notion of Love breaking into the world, as the Who’s helped the Grinch do, how soon would Mary’s first Christmas Carol find it’s way into our celebration with its jarring speech about a world turned upside down? We must remember that this season is about the hope of the poor and oppressed. Love is like water, it first fills those places that are most empty. And it has to wear away at those places that are “high things in its way.”

If we are already full, we will not stomach anymore. If we have already filled our lives with all the things we think make us rich, then there will be no room for the actual “good things.” We will find, in time, that “riches” are really “emptiness.”

The bigger the ego, the more solid the false notion of security in our own victories and our own fleeting material possessions, the longer the waters must erode. But make no mistake, water is stronger than rock. Water will crumble rock.

Mary did not set out to tackle the principalities and the powers. She agreed to have a baby. In the words of the Beatles, she did not “say she wanted a revolution.” She said “let it be” with me according to your word.

Mary believed that God could change the world through the child that she was asked to bring into the world, but she certainly believed there would be more to it than her simply having a child. It’s not that having a child and being shunned by her community was a small thing, but it was what she could do.

God didn’t ask any more of her than she was capable of. If God had said, “one day this son of yours will leave home and never come back. In fact—when you see him, he will say, “you are not my mother.” And then, shortly thereafter, you will watch as he is nailed on a cross and raised up for all to see and mock.” Would Mary have said “Let it be?”

Mary agreed to follow God’s path for her and trust that the path would be shown to her as she walked it. She trusted God enough NOT to ask those questions about what would become of this son of hers. She sang the song of the Messiah, and she had heard what the prophets had said about the Messiah. She sang out in a prophetic hope about what this child would accomplish. But she had probably heard Isaiah’s prophecy of a suffering servant as well. She’d probably heard these words: Isaiah 53: 2-5
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
So, Mary’s faith was one of trusting that God can use what she was willing and able to do, and she didn’t need to know the outcome.

So, perhaps Christmas is all about the gifts after all. It is about the gift that we give to God: an open heart, willing to “Let it be with me according to your will.” And when that gift is given, we receive the greater gift: the chance to live life to the fullest—the joy of being part of God’s grace, which shines across the universe.

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