Forsaken No More!December 24, 1996, 9:00 am & 11:15 am
Have you ever considered the scandal of this story? It is filled with nonsense. God becomes human. Have we lived with that word so long we do not grasp its glorious absurdity? This Christmas, this Eucharistic celebration, embellished with candle light and carol, is about the incarnation of God. In the wondrous words of Charles Wesley: "Veiled in flesh, the God-head see. Hail the incarnate Deity." The story is filled with paradox: Light enters darkness, not because we have struck a match or kindled a flame from the flint of life and steel of our longing. Light has invaded from beyond, unbidden. It is a most special kind of light. It is not a finite source like these flickering candles which will finally die when having consumed their wax. This is the light of a child born of God, Light from the eternal source of Light; light which cannot be extinguished. As its source is eternal, so is its power to hold darkness at bay. When the vestige of these candles is gone, his light will continue to shine in our darkness.
More absurdity: Divine omnipotence becomes human helplessness. The one from beyond time and space, the one who is before anything was, the one who brought all things into being, who sustains them still, the one beyond, behind, and above all reality has become tangent with it. God has entered the envelope of time and space in an intersection of eternity and mortality, Creator in creation. God has become human, not just veiled in flesh, as though pretending, but truly human. All of God that can be absorbed in humanity is visible to us ... in a baby. Outrageous? Of course! Nonsense? Absolutely! I told you it was a scandal!
This night God enters human history, not amid trumpet fanfare, the pageantry of royal courts gathered, or the turmoil of people clamoring to get a view of the long sought one. No news conferences, photo-ops or front office people to put a spin on the events. Rather God simply "slips in" unnoticed, in a child born to young parents on the road, miles away from home, the birth coming, like all births, on its own inconvenient, yet demanding schedule. It is a risky birth. He is born, not in a palace, but in an animal shed out back. He is placed neither on down comforter nor embroidered sheets, certainly not in the safe environment one would expect essential for such a personage, but in a feeding trough on some available, if somewhat used straw. No ambassadors, heads of state or monarchs gather to pay respects. Not even a delegation of religious hierarchy, world-class theologians, philosophers or high priests. Just some shepherds, themselves the despised of the day because they were neither couth nor religiously observant. The one for whom all Israel longed, the fulfillment of their religious and political yearnings, is welcomed, not by the pious, righteous and elite of the day, but by the outcasts, the scorned, the misfit, those whom life has pushed to the fringe. Scandalous, indeed!
But also good news! It is not that God has a high sense of irony -- though there is enough irony here for all of us. God has come in such a way that no one might be excluded. God has come for all of us, and in such a way as to be recognizable by all of us -- any who might have interest.
God did not come in anger, nor filled with wrath lusting for vengeance. God came in goodness and loving kindness, with a lust of a different kind -- the lust to give us life. God has come to us as one of us, so that in this child, you and I might become one with God, in and through him. That is why the angels sing: "Peace on earth, good will to those whom God favors."
And who is that? All of us -- each of us. Forever after we shall know of our acceptability, because God took on human flesh. Forevermore, human life will be precious -- all of it -- not because we value it, but because God has valued it enough to take it on eternally. Forevermore we will know that we are the object of One who desperately seeks to give us what most of us spend our entire days searching after -- life, peace, meaning, joy, purpose, and hope.
That is why the singing, the rejoicing. God came into a world that thought itself godforsaken, to reveal that we are forsaken no more.
But for many, the rejoicing of this night is laced with pain. For many the joy simply sheds more light on their sorrow. If someone you loved has died within this last year, if one dear to you is struggling with a terminal illness, tonight is a time of anguish and pain born of love. If you are separated from those you love, either by distance or lack of reconciliation, tonight is a time of longing. If you are separated from yourself because of things you simply cannot reconcile to yourself -- a profound sense of failure -- tonight is a time of deep remorse and shame, a time of more darkness than light.
Yet, it was for such as you as much as any that God came. It was to touch such pain and heal it that God entered this world in the first place. It was to fill our emptiness, address our lack of reconciliation, and make new our times of failure. God took on our frailty and weakness, became open to hurt, disappointment, and failure, even loss; in this child God experienced it all. Before it was over, God would know what it means to be human in every dimension, from its extraordinary joys and laughter, to the depth of abandonment, suffering and death. And when the darkness finally gathered about him with greatest force, set to extinguish him altogether -- the cradle, after all, finally leads to a cross -- the source from which he had come did not forsake him. God invaded our reality anew, to do a new thing altogether. The light that first invaded on this night long ago, invaded once again to drive out the darkness, transforming grave to resurrection and death to eternal life.
In the midst of our longing, in the shame of our failures and shadows of our darknesses, God seeks to come again. Those who open themselves to his divine embrace, find peace in the midst of pain, hope in the center of the hurt, new life even as this one comes to its end. Regardless of the darkness which surrounds us, our welcome of him brings light, light that shines in the darkness to state with finality the message of this night -- you and I are forsaken no more. Let us pray ...
O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us this day. We hear the Christmas angels, their great glad tidings tell. O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord, Emmanuel.
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