Matthew 1:18-24; Luke 1:26- 2:20; Matthew 2:1-12. Preached at
Old First Reformed United Church of Christ, December 24, 2010 by the Rev. Michael W. Caine.
The United Church of Christ sent out a Christmas Card this year,
an e-card I suspect most of you haven’t seen.
It begins with a swinging, almost frantic piano rendition of
“We Wish You a Merry Christmas,”
and then the big bold letters start rolling out:
“DON’T… LET… THEM… LIE… TO…. YOU.”
Before you have the time to ask, “who’s lying to me and about what?”,
More bold letters, big bold promises, your answer:
IN THE INN.
then smaller letters, hugged by parantheses
(so you really have to pay attention):
“(especially for you).”
There’s always more room in the inn, especially for you.
The contemporary church spends a lot of time, effort and creativity,
trying to broadcast this surprising message,
(surprising because it’s so unexpected by many in our world today)
…that church is truly a place of abundant welcome.
…that there’s space here for all people, just as we are.
…that the church, like God, is distinctively inclusive.
“No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
A friend of mine with a pretty thick hermeneutic of suspicion,
particularly when it comes to church,
“The church, it’s becoming just like
every other advertiser in contemporary America
its all hype and not much to back it up.”
I suspect,” he went right on, “it’s only a scared, self-preserving reaction:
fewer folks in your pews…
church has emptied out over the last 50 years…
western society has become increasingly secular.”
When he noticed my scowl, he backed down a bit,
“Ok, maybe it’s just hopeful exaggeration…
not exactly true, but what you all hope you can become.”
Having conceded that much,
he took it right back.
As if he suddenly feared he was leaving himself dangerously open,
he high-tailed it back to his cynicism,
finishing his judgement and dismissal of the church with:
“Even if you all are better, more welcoming, these days,
that’s just a minor exception, a blip in a long history of
exclusion, excommunication and condemnation.”
But, church, the Gospel of abundant welcome,
the good news of radical hospitality,
is not some add-on pitched for a shrinking post-modern world
and all its multi-culti complexity.
It’s not a timely, strategic advertising campaign
for the church trying to win back or increase its market share.
Instead, it’s the gospel itself.
The good news is that God will do anything to reach us.
That nothing we do or fail to do will dissuade God.
God’s love will not let us go.
Jesus lived the life of God’s open-arms’ welcome,
as in his story of the Father running down the road
to meet his returning prodigal son– out to embrace a prodigal son–
embracing not because of anything the son had done,
but despite what he had done.
Because his Father’s heart loved him more than his worst failures
“God so loved the world, that God sent the son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
It’s the basic message of the Christian faith:
not about the gold stars we collect in our column of the ledger sheet,
it’s about the mercy that always fills up God’s column.
Why’s this good news to you?
Because it means you don’t, can’t, shouldn’t even try, can stop
earning your keep.
Our world operates– and teaches us to operate–
on the premise
that we get what we earn.
And we can’t get what we haven’t earned.
But that leaves most of us anxious some of the time.
A few of us desperate most of the time.
This mistake even works itself into our Christmas celebrations–
if we don’t find, buy, give the right gift,
if we didn’t get to the perfect party,
if our family is not just right,
if our lives aren’t how we or someone else thinks they should be…
if, if, if… (you can fill in your own blank)!!!!
Christmas can be a chronic time for feeling you’re not all right,
fearing you can’t be loved.
It’s an ancient problem, it’s an all-the-time problem,
perhaps a human problem– feeling you got, fearing you can’t measure up.
“What can I do so God will love me?”
“Is there anything that could be enough?”
“What does God really want, expect?”
Sooner or later, it starts to be too much.
Leaves you frustrated. Under a lot of pressure.
Makes you mad. Trying to live up to some standard, justifying yourself.
It gets irritating. Overwhelms you.
“What’s it going to take God?”
You end feeling alienated and left alone.
But the Gospel offers an alternative.
No, better, the Gospel s really is another Way.
You can’t win God’s concern and care.
And you don’t have to, because God’s love comes first.
You don’t have to, because…
God will do anything, everything,
to draw near to us,
to stay near to us, to keep us near God.
God will even undertake something as absurd and dangerous
as coming into an unfriendly world
in the guise of a homeless baby
to unprepared parents
in a time of danger and war.
God comes into our lives at Christmas
in what tradition calls “low estate”
so that none of us need to worry about our own unworthiness,
no struggle with our records,
no need to shy away because we fear we’re not good enough.
If you are a young girl in trouble.
If you are a husband who’s been wronged.
If you are sweaty and unwashed, just in from working in the fields.
If you are far from home, off on some crazy errand.
If you are failing to feel the Christmas spirit this year.
If you are unemployed, worried you couldn’t get any presents this year,
or may never find work again.
If you are on the outs with your family.
Or losing the battle with your addiction or depression…
God still loves you.
Can get those Divine arms around you.
The heart of God is already open to you.
People may say there’s not enough room.
Not enough room for this kind of person or that.
Not enough room for that sort of problem, past or mistake.
Not enough room in our lives.
Not enough room in our world.
But God comes anyway.
Comes in spite of us.
Comes because of us.
We have only to decide:
will we give ourselves over to God’s way,
or will we continue to go our own way?
Beloved, you don’t have to win God’s favor.
You don’t have to appease God.
You can leave off frantically doing this or that to get God to love you.
God loves you already.
Always has. Always will.
We just need to trust in that love.
Life’s not about trying to get on God’s good side.
If you don’t understand all Christian theology
or what the incarnation means,
(who really does?),
Christmas shows how God is taking our side.
God sends the Christ child into the world.
God with us.
At our side.
On our side.
“Unto us this day in the city of David a child is born.”
Unto this day in this city a child is born.
In my life and in your life too.
Because God’s love is a gift, grace.
We haven’t, couldn’t have done a thing to earn this.
None of us deserves to be here.
None of has any more claim on God’s favor than any of the rest of us.
No one is here because he or she is that accomplished or strong or faithful.
We’re not worthy, except in as much as we’re already loved,
and for that alone, we’re welcome.
That’s the way love is.
You don’t earn it.
You can’t force it.
We can only receive it,
make room for it
in our lives and in our world,
and then pass it on.
That love is the one real Christmas gift.
The one we can share.
And it makes the only and all the difference in the world. Amen.