Isaiah 9:2-7 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Tonight is all about celebrating the birth of one child who would change the world- Love is born this night. And in here, surrounded by the warmth of friends, flowers, and lights, and carols- we feel it... the love, the joy, the hope... and if you are like me, it is the reason you came here tonight- to feel those things- to reconnect- to hear the familiar words of the Christmas story... because out there- outside of these four walls, it's not so easy, even at Christmas time to feel the way we do in here. Out there we are pulled in many directions; the stress and confusion of living in America, and each day it seems, the news gets worse... And so we gather here, with the hopeful this night to remember: God sent a child to change the world- Love is born this night.
At the beginning of the service I read a passage from the Prophet Isaiah- fortelling the birth of the Messiah- the anointed on who would change the world. It's more than appropriate for us as moderns, because Isaiah speaks to a people who “walk in darkness,” and who dwell in the land of the shadow of death.”(KJV) They are hurting, confused, suffering loss and grief at every turn. They had been invaded by a violent nation; their government was corrupt and faithless, and every day the news got worse. "They are not merely in darkness; they are stuck there. There is a yoke upon them, a bar on their shoulders, an oppressor’s rod keeping them down; even their own king had turned on them and was worshiping pagan Gods. There was no reason to hope."(1)
And in the midst of this Isaiah points them toward a better future: the light has broken through the darkness- even those who dwell in the land of the shadow of death have light shined upon them... No more oppression, the rods of oppressors are broken, it's all good now- and its all because of the birth of this baby- this child- the wonderful counselor who sets in motion the ways of peace, and justice, and righteousness- forever!
Great words to hang on to tonight, in this time of darkness and confusion. Except, wait, this was written thousands of years ago- and this miracle of the Christ child took place over 2000 years ago- honestly, is the world any better than when Jesus was born? So, if God send a child to change the world, and love is born this night, 2000 years ago- what happened- where is the peace and justice and righteousness that we are supposed to be experiencing- did God's plan not work? And if the way of peace and justice has been set in motion, what is stopping us from living into that reality? Perhaps we need to see things differently.
One of my favorite children's books is Dr. Seuss's The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. It's also wonderful in its original animated version from the 60's- but the more recent film starring Jim Carrey expands the story to afford us the experience of watching the grinch grow up. We learn how the child grinch experienced bullying, exclusion from his community, and eventually demonization because he was different. This in turn produced an angry, isolated and vengeful adult. The grinch, once longing for acceptance and love of community, had become convinced that those things were unattainable, and so he withdraws (or is pushed) to the margins. He begins to see himself in the same way as he had been taught he is- and acts accordingly... mean, selfish, and spiteful. So when the community comes together to celebrate Christmas, the grinch, naturally, can not see or feel any joy or love.
I understand the grinch- I imagine we all do at some level which is why the story has lasted generations. I sympathize with the hurt and pain, his despair and desire to act out and hurt the ones who have hurt him. I understand the instinct to isolate, and shut everything and everyone out, and how someone could feel unwanted, unacceptable, and unworthy. I understand his world view- that oppression and hostility and anxiety are constant companions- and peace and justice and righteousness are just words of prophets and pastors, and maybe, Pollyanna's.
The story ends with the grinch restored to community, a true Christmas miracle- but the interesting thing is that 2 things had to happen in order for them to live in peace. The first, is the understanding on the part of the community- a young girl, willing to go against the ideals and teachings and even the laws of the community, reaches out in understanding and compassion to the grinch, and enlists others to help end the exclusion. That's a pretty big deal- for community to initiate restoration. And truly that can only come through the gift of love. But the second thing that had to happen is that the grinch himself needed to be open to see himself in a way that is different from everything he had been taught about himself, and different from everything he has experienced. He needed to look at himself, not as unworthy, or as less than- but as having value enough to be a part of something bigger than himself.
Of the two, I will tell you that the latter is the more difficult. It implies rebirth-adopting a new identity, a changed sense of self, of everything we know to be true about ourselves.... it is a birth of something brand new in us- learning a love of who we are, and learning to love ourselves the way God loves us. It is what the birth of Christ is all about. It is the master plan for ushering in peace and justice and righteousness.
We open ourselves up to the possibility that we might not be everything we have been told we are. We begin to give birth to the love that dwells in us- we begin, with God's help, to live into who we are because of Christ. That is how we reconcile, its how God heals the world. And if you think it can't be done, read over the scriptures we heard tonight. Mary, despite age, and scandal, and fear, opened herself up to the possibility that God just may know better than she what the world needed- and the world needed her to birth love. Joseph, despite public humiliation, skepticism, and confusion opened himself up to the possibility that God had a plan for his life that he never dreamed of. The shepherds, the lowest of low in society opened themselves to the possibility that they might be shown a miracle, and despite their standing, despite them being social outcasts, spread the news of Christs birth to the whole city- and people believed.
It's possible. I guess that's all I want to tell you this night. It's all I ever really want to tell you- that whatever you have learned about yourself, or believe about yourself, or have accepted about yourself- whatever you think is going on inside of you or how hopeless you feel the world is, God has a plan. Allow your spelf this night, to open itself up to the possibility that you are loved more than you can fathom- that a spirit greater and deeper and wider than you've ever known lives in you, and because of that spirit, you are worth more than you can imagine. Allow God to touch your heart this night, to birth in you the gift of love...
God sent a child to change the world; love is born