Do you like your Christmas tree this year? I like mine, but it’s certainly not because I enjoy the process of buying the thing and struggling to get it set up straight—“oh no, dear, I think it needs to go back the other way.”
I find hanging the ornaments both beautiful and painful—because it opens up in me a flood of nostalgia that feels like both grace and grief. The ornament that says, “Baby’s First Christmas 1980” reminds me that my daughter is a great gift from God to me and the world, but it also reminds me she is no longer a little girl living at home. She’s now a grown woman who I’ll see on Monday, but I’ll never again have those carefree days when my children were young and my parents were alive and I was going to live forever.
The Christmas tree shows in capsulated form the wonders and the wounds of life. It displays both our great joy and our great sadness.
It also reminds us of our family tree, which reaches back further into time to those men and women who were God’s gifts in their generation and who help define who we are today.
If we go back far enough we find that your tree and my tree are connected and if you go back further still we find that all our trees are connected into one great tree of humankind.
And if we take the Bible seriously we see that the One Human Tree is grounded in and comes out of the love of Father, Son, and Spirit; that every person is created through the Son, the Word of God, and bares the image of God within.
Yet you don’t need me to tell you that we have gotten separated from our Source. Just look at the Human Family Tree and you see a tree at war with itself, as if it has an auto-immune disease that is killing the tree whose branches we all are.
Luke’s gospel tonight begins with a picture of a world separated from its Source. The world’s superpower, the Roman Empire, is ordering conquered people in occupied lands to register with their hometown taxman so Caesar’s legions can be paid and maintain control.
The wealthy live in homes while for a pregnant woman great with child there is no room in the inn.
I read yesterday of a mother in Liberia having to walk two miles with her young child who has Ebola in order to get help.
Into this dark world a message of hope comes to some nobodies we call shepherds.
But to understand the message we have to look back into the heart and mind of God, because there is in the human heart the idea that God really does not like us.
I heard a recent interview with Paul Young, the author of The Shack the 2007 novel about a man suffering from the Great Sadness who is met by the Triune God in a shack in the mountains.
Paul Young said, “I’ve got great sadness in my history. I had a very difficult relationship with my father. I have…abuse in my history…., All those things tend to destroy the house on the inside, the shack. It’s a shack, not a really habitable place. That becomes the place where you hide all your addictions and you store your secrets, and it’s the place of shame. You don’t want anything to do with it. You hate yourself. You hate this place, which is your own soul. Then religion comes along and tells you that God also hates it, and God wants a nice building. You don’t know what to do with the shack, so you build a façade outside – a little quarter-inch piece of plywood you can paint, as fast as you can pick up people’s expectations, and you begin to perform. Religion is about performance.” https://www.gci.org//YI122
But what happens in Luke’s gospel is not a story about finding a way to please a god who doesn’t like us. Rather it is the story about Creator God, Father, Son, and Spirit who is so in love with us that the Son comes into our shack to heal our tragedy.
The moment the Word of God connects with the flesh of Mary his mother the whole human family begins to get well. Our sickness unto death begins to be reversed because now a good infection (as C. S. lewis calls the incarnation) begins to spread.
We are here tonight to celebrate God’s remedy that comes out of the fountain of love which is the inner life of the Trinity.
+The shepherds are just sitting there with their animals in the dark.
+Mary and Joseph are just overwhelmed with a messy birth in difficult circumstances.
I hesitate to say this but you’ll notice all of this happens outdoors and not in a church. The whole world is God’s temple and there is absolutely no difference between sacred and secular in God’s mind.
In Genesis Chapter One we hear that In the beginning God created and said it is very good. In John chapter one we hear, In the beginning the Word that is God and through whom everything is made becomes flesh and dwells among us.
Jesus is fully human and fully divine in the guilt and shame and darkness.
Just as an injection given in the arm spreads medicine to every cell of the body, so Christ’s presence as man on earth spreads healing to the whole human race and each individual in it.
Jesus comes to share with us his relationship with the Father so we might know our adoption God’s sons and daughters.
Jesus is not just passing on God’s love but changing our self-understanding from shamed into accepted, from rebels into family.
Think of your own family.
When I was three my mother wrote a letter to her mother recounting how the day before I had emptied a two pound bag of plaster in the living room and dining room while she cooked supper. She nearly lost her mind, but at the end of the day I was still her son. (I know some have not been so lucky.)
The parable of the prodigal son tells us not just that the father still loves the son, but that the father still thinks of this young man who wasted his life on prostitutes and gambling as a son. He cries out for the servants to bring the shoes and ring that belong to a son, and throws a party because “my son was dead and is alive, was lost and is found.”
This is who you and I are.
Paul sums it up this way in Galatians 4:4-7:
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our[b] hearts, crying, “Abba![c] Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave but a son, a daughter, and therefore also an heir, through God.”
So the good news is not that you can work hard to get Jesus Christ into your life. The good news is that Jesus Christ has received you, and all creation into his life.
So I’ll enjoy my Christmas tree and feel both the joy and pain of Christmases past because Jesus Christ has already entered our darkness to make his home in us.
For remember what the angels say: “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy FOR ALL the people…
The shepherds are included. The Wise Men are included. Even Caesar Augustus is included, as are Pontius Pilate and Judas Iscariot.
….for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”