Unremarkable, Unforgettable

Christmas Eve
December 24th, 2017
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls

Why have you come here tonight?

What is it that you have come to see?

We gather together on this winter evening in the heart of Rome to once more hear the story of Jesus birth, and to perhaps take stock of how we receive the amazing news this year, in a world that suffers under so much darkness.

It can be hard to discern why the birth of a child to a poor Judean girl and her supportive, yet socially compromised husband almost over 2000 years ago has anything to do with our contemporary world.

After years of seeing the story stripped of its import, in favor of more saccharine, and consumer acceptable versions of Christmas, it is understandable why some of us might feel at liberty to dismiss the miracle of this night.

And yet, in spite of overly-glamorized and impotent versions of what Christmas is and how our God’s birth has been co-opted to serve nefarious political purposes… even though everyone of us is aware of the multiplicity of terrors and darkness that infect our world, tonight we all come to Bethlehem like those first shepherds, with hope in our hearts, expecting to witness the birth of the light once more.

We come to Bethlehem because deep down, we know that something greater and more permanent than the Emperor Augustus, the Roman Empire, and their many counterparts in our contemporary world is arising in this child Jesus.

We come to Bethlehem because we need to be reminded that God chooses “what is weak in this world to shame the powerful, and what is foolish to shame the wise.”

We come to Bethlehem because as implausible as it may seem, the God of All chose to become one with our humanity through a barely teen aged, Judean nobody, and to fully enter into all the struggles and joys that come from being in fleshed.

And if such a thing happened then… from a decision to say yes to God’s mission and life intimately becoming one with Mary’s once unremarkable existence…then it can happen in our own lives and in our hurting world, transforming both from being unremarkable to unforgettable.

Why have you come here tonight?

What is it that you have come to see?

Those shepherds were minding their business in their fields, probably expecting that as poor laborers, their lives would pretty much always stay the same, and they would continue to be unnoticed and inconsequential while the “important people” kept making decisions that affected their lives.

And then God’s messenger Gabriel breaks into their world, rending the night with glory and the chorus of a heavenly host, and tells them all sorts of good news about a child being born, and that they need not be afraid anymore.

I’m sure that at the time, they could barely grasp that the child’s entire life would show people, in more powerful and nuanced ways, how not to be afraid anymore, but to instead exchange their fears for love and faith.

Maybe as their eyes were aflame with the glory of the heavenly host, they briefly wondered if the whole show was just something they ate or drank.

But in the end, they responded to the call and invitation, and went to Bethlehem to lay eyes on the miracle of the truly unremarkable becoming unforgettable.

That is what I come to Bethlehem to see each Christmas, and it is why I give my days and hours to working for the kingdom of God becoming as real on this earth as it is in heaven.

Through Jesus, God has lifted up the lowly and filled the hungry with good things, and the longer I go on living, the more I realize just how low I can sink, and just how hungry I am for truth, salvation and the good things that this world cannot give.

The Incarnation, this miracle of Christmas, which is the binding of human and divine into one through Christ, is a miracle that is at play in this church and in my heart on a constant basis.

I need to be reminded that God ennobles us, like Mary and all those who have said yes to the call, and can make the impossible possible, when we have the faith and perseverance to allow the Spirit to move and act through us.

I need to hear the story of how true greatness in the kingdom ushered in by this fragile little child, has nothing to do with royal titles, bank accounts, or social standing, but rather is based on one’s capacity to love and hope and serve.

Because I have more than enough people and news organizations telling me the opposite.

More than enough examples of how the powerful trample upon the weak, how might makes right, and how shepherds, teenage mothers, and how the multitudes of the poor are meaningless in the global economy and clash of nations.

But tonight, the light from Bethlehem shines once more, and illuminates my mind and heart and soul, and reminds me that because of the birth of Christ, we know a better way.

The miracle of this night is not that all our challenges and problems come to a sudden end with the birth of this child, but our need to be captive to them does.

Like the baby Moses who floated in the basket upon the Nile would deliver slaves to their freedom in the exodus, this baby in the manger has come so that all the enslaved (Jew or Gentile), and all who are oppressed under the weight of the world, might be free to love God and love their neighbor and do so with a joy that passes understanding.

If you have let the miracle of this night into your own heart and lives, then you know the truth of which I speak.

For you have seen the way such love can transform a hardened heart, and resurrect an entire people to new purpose and shared mission.

And if that miracle seems far away from you this night, then I encourage you to allow some of tonight’s light, hope and promise to find even just a seed’s size space in your heart and take root there…in the hope that as you go forth from here, God will keep reminding you to choose life over fear and enable you to journey along with others who seek to do the same.

Why have you come here tonight?

I hope it has something to do with a desire to dream again and to be assured that in the Incarnation, God has given us the tools we need to build up the kingdom together.

What it is that you have come to see?

I pray it has something to do with light shining in the darkness, with the flicker of hope in shepherds’ eyes, and the fragile promise of a newborn child.

Take the gift of this night with you, spreading hope and sowing love as you go.

Let the miracle live in your own life, tonight and always.

And I promise you, you will indeed bear witness to the unremarkable becoming once more, truly unforgettable, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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