For those of you visiting us for the first time or the first time in a while, I would like to extend an invitation to you to join us on Sundays. We worship in this space every Sunday morning at 8am and 10:15am. I just wanted to extend the welcome, since I see many new faces. We are glad you are here!
Do any of you have a good imagination?
Since we didn’t have a pageant at our 4pm service, in our mind’s eye let me introduce you to the cast of the very first no prop, no prep, no rehearsal, invisible Christmas Pageant. Our first character is the young, rising star and beloved Mary. An adorable, sweet girl– she just turned fourteen. We have carpenter Joe, a gentleman in his mid to late forties, he and Mary just got engaged. Can we give them a hand. Now, don’t be afraid– seriously, don’t be afraid, these are our angels. I know they are a little intimidating, but they assure me we shouldn’t be afraid. And here are our three astrologers– they read the signs in the stars and back at their homes are quite the entrepreneurs. I’d also like to present to you our supporting cast– grumpy hotel owner one, two, and three, and our shepherds– don’t mind shepherd Eli over there, he’s just tending to the sick sheep making sure nothing gets on the pews. And, my friends, I am pleased to present to you the star of our show, Jesus. And on top of this motley crew, the scene for our Christmas pageant will be a barn– watch where you step and do not get to close to the cow because he has some digestive probles. Oh, and don’t bother talking to the three astrologers unless you speak Hindi, Dari, or Arabic. If you don’t, it’s ok because young Mary doesn’t speak these either.
This, my friends, is the scene of the Incarnation. This is the cast, the royal court of this heavenly birth. Young teenage Mary, her forty-year-old fiancée, in this barn, with three foreigners who cannot communicate with her but with gifts, and not a midwife or maiden mentioned. It is no wonder Mary was “silent, pondering it all in her heart”– who would she talk to? Who would understand her fear and her joy, her anxiety and ecstasy. The birth of this King– the announcement of the Son of God– did not come with trumpets and banners, Clydesdale horses, and throngs of soldiers like the Roman Emperors– but with scary angels, foreign astrologers, an unwed pregnant teenage girl, her fiancée, and on top of all that we end up in a barn. Things only get more scandalous, my friends, when the Angel tells Joseph in a dream to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt until the death of Herod. Fleeing in the night to Egypt, we can assume they didn’t meet up with the guard at the border to Egypt with the story that “God told me to emigrate here.” One scandalous story turns to another when carpenter Joe, young Mary, and baby Jesus enter Egypt as undocumented immigrants where they hide out until the end of Herod’s reign. The light has shone into the world and the world did not recognize it. This King, my friends, is not a recognizable King according to the world’s expectations. This Light shines in hues that confound the world.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he writes that God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and what is weak to shame the strong (1 Cor 1:27). He is a King who is humble and lowly. He is a Lord who serves his subjects. He is a King who washes the feet of the members of his court. The Kingdom is a place where there is power in weakness, in vulnerability.
I had a Jewish friend in college with whom I would often spend time talking about God. We’d share our personal encounters, read poetry together, and talk about the awesomeness of God. It was evident from our conversations that our experiences of God were so strikingly similar. We both experienced a God who is loving and playful. A God who is personal and intimate. A God who is madly in love with each one of us. We spoke fondly of God’s silliness and the gentleness of God’s being. In talking with her I longed to share with her my joy of the knowledge that the God we both knew had walked among us. I remember telling her– “I believe that the One whom you know through experience is the very same God I know, the One who I believe, in the beautiful and vulnerable act of becoming human, walked among us, teaching and showing us the path of love like no other has or could.”
In weeks to follow, she told me that the washing of the disciples feet at the Last Supper is exactly what the God whom she knew would do if he were human. In fact, she said, that was, to her, the strongest evidence of Christ being God incarnate, as she said, “Only God could model something so beautiful, so humble.”
Unwed pregnant teen gives birth to child, forty year old carpenter assists, meets with foreign leaders, illegally emigrates to Egypt. This sounds much more like an announcement on an international border patrolman’s CB than the announcement of a King, but this my friends is the scandal of the incarnation. The witness of a God who enters into the lowly places of this world, and who meet us where we are, who is not afraid of dirt, and blood, gnats, and manure. In the Jewish culture of purity laws and taboos, this birth is a great offense. Divine glory– light and majesty– and human nature– shaped from the dirt of the earth– on this sacred day have wed. The Incarnation challenges us to step back, and consider where God might be working in ways we would never imagine.
How have we confined God? Let us consider, in our own lives, if we have confined the places where we are willing to see God at work, and the people who are his cast in this world? A wise man once said, “Unless you can see God in all, you cannot see God at all.” In his letters, Paul testifies to a God who is above all, through all, and in all. Who would we have preemptively eliminated from the cast? Would we have cast an unwed pregnant teen, an old carpenter fiancée, and frightening angels for the main roles in this pageant if we were writing it? Who is it that we ostracize from own lives—who is cast aside in our society at large, by the laws of our State, in the City of San Leandro, or even our parish community? Perhaps the immigrant who does not speak English well or at all, the mentally ill who are wrestling with finding stability, the addict who has not yet recovered, or simply the socially awkward who don’t fit in easily.
Perhaps they are the very ones God has chosen for his cast in this world to teach us, and to reveal aspects of his being we do not fully understand.
In what ways have we confided in our minds the ways God acts? Would we have sent the holy family out to cross the border secretly under the cover of night? Would we really have laid the baby Jesus in a horse or cow’s trough? What places have we deemed unworthy of God entrance? Would we have cast his birth in a barn? And what are the barns of our world today, where those for whom there is “no room” go to find shelter and warmth. The ghetto, the shelter, third world countries. Perhaps this is where God has set the stage for his continued revelation.
With a story as scandalous as the good news of Jesus Christ, let us be careful when we seek God and God’s work in the world, else we might overlook the miracle in the stable, the scandalous Mystery born and resting in a throne of hay and the many ways, faces, and places in which He meets us from day to day.
© The Rev. Justin R. Cannon