Not Just a Pretty Story

Sermon for Christmas Eve 2013
Luke 2: 1-20
The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield


Good evening, everyone. Welcome.  Thank you for taking the time, and making the effort, to be here tonight.  I know it’s not always easy!  And I know many of you are not regular churchgoers, so it’s especially nice to have you with us. I love that on one of these few occasions you come to church, I get to stand up here and give you some incredible good news.  Amazing news, really—and not just for you, of course, but for everyone who is here tonight.

And here it is.  Here’s the good news:   That beautiful story we just heard…the magical one with the angel and the shepherds that some of us have been tearfully watching Linus recite in Charlie Brown’s Christmas every year since 1965?  Well, the thing is: it’s not just a pretty story.

It’s a beautifully embellished and sanitized version of a much grittier but nonetheless historical event.  A couple of thousand years ago, the same God that created the 61 elementary particles described in the Standard Model of quantum physics….the same God that created 8.7 million species of life on this planet alone (not to mention 40 billion habitable earth-sized planets in our galaxy)…this same God that created us and hard-wired us to think thoughts, feel feelings, ask questions, explore the world, form relationships, and create life, words, music, art and poetry – this very same God who made us in His image, actually made a decision to make Himself in ours! And that is very good news indeed!

Now I realize that all sounds pretty unbelievable.  And, you haven’t heard the half of it yet.  Because when this God that made us in His image decided to make Himself in ours, He chose to do it in the most unexpected—and frankly, scandalous, of ways: He chose to be born to a very poor, unmarried girl… a girl from a marginalized and oppressed people… a people living under foreign domination and military occupation…amidst a society riddled by corruption, decadence, violence, and exploitation. That’s right, the same magnificent God that’s responsible for the majesty and mystery of the entire cosmos, chose to become weak and powerless and vulnerable—and to experience human life at its hardest.

It’s a pretty wild story.  Not nearly as beautiful as the one we just read from Luke’s gospel, and certainly not as sweet to hear as the  Linus version in Charlie Brown’s Christmas.   And in all of its gritty, historical details, I dare say it’s even more unbelievable.

Unbelievable that the Creator of all that is would choose to take on the vulnerability of being a baby who is born in extreme poverty and oppression; the danger of being a prophet who speaks truth to empire and power; the heartbreak of being a parent who wants nothing more than to save His lost children; and the commitment of being the Light of the World, until the end of time.

Unbelievable that the great “I AM” of Hebrew scripture would go to such humbling and humiliating lengths to free us from fear and fill us with hope.

Unbelievable that Our Lord God truly loves us that much!

Unbelievable, of course, unless you choose to believe.  Because if you choose to believe this story (and we all have that choice)  it changes everything.  Everything.

If you believe, your heart bears a light that not even the darkest of days can extinguish.  If you believe, you know that nothing, not even the anguish of death, can separate you from God’s love; if you believe, you are guided by a wisdom more precious than gold; if you believe, your heart is flooded with gratitude—knowing, in Bishop Tom’s words, that “through this birth event in human history…hope is everywhere for us.”  Everywhere.  And always.

So do not be afraid. I am bringing you good news of great joy.  Good news for all people—but especially for those of you who are vulnerable, frightened, in need of healing, or low on hope.  Because to you–most especially to you– was born this night your Savior, who is Christ the Lord:  The human embodiment of  God’s saving love with us, here and now.

It’s not just a pretty story.  It’s an incredible one; a stunning one; one that changed human life and altered reality forever….One with the power to change your life and alter your reality forever… if you but let it.

That is the unbelievably good news I get to share with you tonight.  That is the real story of Christmas.  May you believe it with the awe of the shepherds who first heard it; may you be amazed by it with the wonder of those they told; and may you treasure it in your heart always, with the gentle but God-affirming “yes” of Mary.  Amen.


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