Isaiah 9: 2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
I would first like to welcome all of you here on this holy night. If you are a member of this parish – welcome. If you are visitor – welcome, and thank you for being here on this holy night. This church is blessed by your presence.
There’s too much going on. Too much to do, people to see, gifts to buy, and it doesn’t even feel like Christmas outside! 80 degrees with humidity! I was sweating outside today. There is too much to do, and there is never enough time. When I turn my eyes to the concerns of the world at large, they are met with the plight of refugees, of violence, and of pain. There seems to be no end and no answer. I confess this is no time for Christmas. There is no time for stockings, wrapped presents and the pleasantries of family and friends when the world is facing problems so large and resolve so small. And yet this is what Christmas does to us every year – we are never ready, the world is never ready, and often are caught unprepared to welcome God into our messy, complicated, and beautiful world.
Our global unpreparedness, our countries entrenched in geopolitical conflict, our cities broken and homes split – none of this seems to bother God. Christmas comes every year; Christ enters our world in spite of its brokenness, in spite of its pain. Staring fearlessly into the abyss of political and social division, inequality, and injustice, Jesus proclaims this: God loves you.
Several weeks ago Pope Francis visited Bangui, the capital city of the Central African Republic. The Central African Republic is one of the world’s poorest nations, and one of the places in the capital city Francis visited was the Muslim quarter, called PK5. Since 2012, the Central African Republic has been locked in a civil war that that has strong religious motivations. According to the Human Rights Watch, about 122,000 Muslims lived in Bangui before the start of this civil war. But attacks by Christian militia groups have driven tens of thousands of Muslims from the country, and there are now about 15,000 Muslims remaining in Bangui, mostly in PK5.
Pope Francis was determined to visit the Central African Republic, a country devastated by violence and poverty, telling the pilot of his airplane, “I want to go to Central Africa, and if you can’t manage it, give me a parachute.” Thousands stood in the sun along the dusty airport road to greet the pope, many waving palms in his honor. He rode most of the way in an open pope mobile.
His visit to PK5 culminated in a visit to a mosque, where he sat down on a threadbare rug, next to many imams and other leaders of the Islamic community. And it was here, that Francis, the head of the entire Roman Catholic Church said the following: “Religiously motivated violence disfigures the face of God. Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters.” Francis took this trip at great risk. Many warned him not to go because the region was too unstable. The Islamic State had publicly announced a death threat on his life. Francis’ response to the Islamic State was that he we would be willing to speak to them in the name of peace.
Francis proclaimed the radical love of God for all people, not in a gilded church in Europe, not amongst the political elite, not in the White House, but upon a threadbare carpet in a mosque in a country few know exists.
Nearly two thousand years ago, the word of God became incarnate in an unimportant, ordinary city on the outer rim of the Roman Empire. Jesus was born not during a time of peace, but of great instability and in the midst of great political conflict between the Jews and the Roman Empire. The timing of the first Christmas was far from ideal. This is why the timing of Christ’s birth was so critical – because God didn’t wait for some ideal time, when things were perfect and peaceful, for Jesus to be born. Because in God’s wisdom, God knew that time would never come! Jesus entered the world as it is now and was then – broken.
So don’t feel everything has to be perfect at Christmas. The first Christmas was far from it. As one theologian says, “it doesn’t matter that our lives, or our families or world are not perfect. What matters is that we make a space, no matter how small, for God in our hearts. When we do that, God will do the rest, and Christ will once more be born in the Bethlehem of our lives and the mangers of our hearts.”
When Christ is born in our heart, then we are able to proclaim the message of Christmas which is simple: “God loves you, always, no matter what.” Whether that message is proclaimed in the city of Bethlehem or the Muslim quarter of Bangui, it makes no difference. God is with you, God is with us, God is living and active in the world.
I believe with all my heart that when God looks at you, God sees the Greatest Miracle in the World. I believe God looks at you with the same eyes of adoration and praise God glanced at the newborn Christ child years ago. Because just like Jesus, you are the incarnation of God’s love in the world. You are the resurrected Christ to the world, and in you, Christ is born, again and again.
And that is the miracle of Christmas – you. You are, and will always be, God’s greatest gift. Merry Christmas! AMEN.