There is a moment when you decide to ring a bell. (Many children and young people have been given bells and choose to ring them.) A moment when you reach for the bell, you move your wrist and let it ring. There is a moment when you move from imagining a sound to making a sound. When you ring a bell the air changes, things unseen change shape. Ears cannot help but turn.
Before there is motion there is imagination. That is the moment when the ring begins to take shape. Tradition tells us that there is not a moment when Christ was not with God. From before the beginning began, the Logos, God's holy Wisdom has always been One with God. To paraphrase the ancient theologian, there is NO when the Christ was not.
Yet there might have been a moment, when God’s imagination ran wild, when God had a new idea. An idea so extra-ordinary that maybe, it surprised God. It could have been a jolt or maybe it was a rising hum. Did continents split or solar flares erupt? Maybe this moment was in the second second after the big bang, or maybe it was eons later, much closer to now than then. What is it like for God to feel such a new idea?
CS Lewis offers that God is nothing but love and he had to create the universe, create us, so that as love he could be love in action. The idea of becoming one with the creation he loves, must have felt explosive. Like a loud clanging cymbal. I wonder if even God was amazed by the boldness of his love. Did he utter a nervous chuckle? Was he both tickled and scared at the same time? Whenever it was, the chuckle, the clang, the notion of Christ being born on earth, that was the moment our beginning began.
When you hear the word childhood, do you imagine a multitude of things cute and cuddly and precious? Then you were clearly not born and raised in the same era and region as Jesus. The ancient world into which Jesus was born was not one with Sesame Street or child protective services. When Jesus was born the children didn’t have much social value, like the toys we used to form our Nativity scene today. (Children and congregants were invited to bring toys and figurines to make a Nativity during the Gospel.) Being born was dangerous, infancy and toddlerhood were tenuous, with only one out of two surviving to age 5. Children were regarded more like these toys. At best, something you have invested in, something you have affection for, but something that you know can be easily lost. Yet it is into this cultural reality That God was born.
God became a tender sleeping infant and a goofy toddler in this nowhere’s ville place; he was given the most common name in the neighborhood: and yet THIS changes everything. If God is born of a woman, if God can be the child of Mary (which is also an incredibly ordinary name), then any child, born anywhere, could be the incarnate Lord. Just as how Jesus' death as an innocent victim changes how we see all scapegoats, so to does Jesus’ vulnerable birth change our perception of the preciousness of the whole creation.
This holy night demands that we hear the grown Savior’s words: how you treat the least of these IS how you treat me. The writings of the early church make a sudden turn from the cultural norms of not valuing children or anything resembling the concept of childhood. Children became people. And maybe, just maybe, we are beginning to show that we know what it means to live as God’s children.
Jesus’s birth, life, death and resurrection should change how we see everything, ALL material, all moments of despair and lostness. Jesus’ incarnation calls us to live in a universe that is holy, through and through, everywhere that sound can go. And a universe that is redeemable, through and through, everywhere that sound goes. This is the good news: that the least likely and most average material can bear the holy, even you and me. Does it make you feel tickled and scared at the same time?
So where are you in this Nativity story? Are you an action figure guarding the door? Or a learned sage still on your way? How will you make room for God, now that he has moved into our neighborhood? Told us his love story with the most ordinary and undervalued things?
There is a moment when you move from imagining a sound to making a sound. (ring ring)
O' Come to us, Abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.
Christmas Eve 2013
RCL A (Christmas 1)
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington