The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
December 24, 2016
This night is truly holy, for on this night something magnificent happened for all of us.
On this night, love found a way to save us from ourselves and our bad decisions.
By our wrong decisions we have tied our lives into knots, knots we have no ability either to unravel or to cut through. We have tied our thinking into knots, our feelings into knots, our relationships into knots, our capacity to fulfill our potential into knots; and we lack what it takes to undo our tangled messes.
So the Lord of love took flesh and came to loosen the knots that bind us to our status quo, extricate us from the complicated chaos we’ve created, and set us free to live at a higher, happier and holier level than ever before.
It all happened, says the biblical book called Galatians, “when the fullness of time had come” – that is, at just the right moment. The Son of God entered this world two millennia ago, which was an unknown number of millennia after human beings arrived on earth. The timing of the incarnation gave Israel enough years to process the revelations God had given it before and to get ready for a new revelation. It also gave the world as a whole enough years to develop the means by which to spread abroad the news of that revelation.
The Population Reference Bureau estimates that 105 billion people have lived on this planet thus far. Only two percent of them were born before the first Christmas, but that was a sufficient number for the development of adequate literacy, technology and transportation systems to facilitate the carrying of the good news of Christmas into every corner of the world.
The good news of Christmas was less a verbal message than a living, breathing person, a God-man, says Galatians, who was “born of a woman”. The absence of the mention of a man involved in his birth was not a forgetful mistake of omission, but a deliberate phrasing for precision. For Mary’s boy-child was conceived by an action of the Holy Spirit without the involvement of a male human being. That’s why the birth of the God-man is called a “virgin birth”. From his mother alone Jesus was born as a full human being. From the Spirit alone who overshadowed Mary with His miracle-working power, Jesus was born fully divine as well. By those two parents the God-man entered this world.
Many balk at believing in the so-called Virgin Birth, as if it were too stupendous a supernatural act to be accepted. Yet, the most mind-boggling miracle of Christmas is the incarnation itself; and, if one accepts that unfathomable miracle, there should be no difficulty in accepting the means by which God chose to effect it.
But to believe that God became completely human while retaining His complete divinity is like accepting that a battleship can fit into a bathtub, a skyscraper into a doll house, a field of wheat into a cereal box. It is to accept that the light of the world dwelt nine months in the darkness of a virgin’s womb, that the Almighty became utterly dependent for His survival upon a teenage girl, that this tiny and helpless human being reveals the immensity of God’s love and power, and that a mortal man whom we might have passed on the street and not even noticed is, in Himself, God before our eyes.
To win our trust and to move us to allow Him to liberate us from the knots that tie up our lives, God could not possibly make Himself any greater that He already is, in order to impress us. But God could make Himself smaller in our sight than He actually is, in order to attract us – attract by the form of a captivating, accessible and non-threatening baby.
God appeared in the vulnerability of a baby? Why? First, because, while God is in many ways frightening, anyone can find the courage to approach a baby. Second, because establishing a relationship of love always takes someone’s making themselves vulnerable and susceptible to hurt. Christmas tells us that, out of hope of a friendship with us, God chose to become fragile and breakable. God became someone we could hurt – and did hurt.
No other religion – not secularism, paganism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism or Islam – believes that God had a body, became breakable, and suffered.
Christmas tells a story of God’s going the full distance in becoming vulnerable out of love. There in that manger God lies, randomly waving little arms, hungrily sucking a fist, crying to have changed the bands of cloth wrapped around Him. There, to reach us, God relinquishes His security; there God embraces all the risks love requires.
There is the Savior newborn from the womb of Mary. Will we take Him from her arms and bear Him into our hearts? Will we let the same Holy Spirit who put Him into the world put Him into the center of our lives?
If we will, we receive adoption into the family of the Creator, our would-be Father in heaven. We become His sons and daughters, and little brothers and sisters of His only begotten Son.
By that adoption we become the Father’s heirs and recipients of His riches: most especially now, His power to break loose from the knots that tie up our lives, His strength to love with an abandon and vulnerability like His, and His own joy growing in us – until we dance with delight at His everlasting party. Let us pray.