Christmas is a choice

We don’t get a choice in many of the things that matter in our lives. We don’t get to choose when someone we loves loses a job, gets stressed out, or endures an illness. We don’t get to choose when a heart attack or car accident arrives. We don’t get to choose our country’s immigration policy or how our nation responds to the growing challenge of climate change. We’re not the ones who decide for America between a policy of war or peace, or between racism and diversity, or between homophobia and acceptance. There’s a lot of important things in our life we don’t get to choose.

We do get to choose how each of us responds to the things we didn’t choose. We get to decide how we support a friend through tough economic times, how we care for a family member enduring a difficult illness, how we respond to an accident or even an unexpected death. And we get to choose whether we accept or resist injustice and cruelty masquerading as foreign policy or national immigration practices. And we get to say whether we will strive to protect white privilege or stand for an end to race hatred stoked by pandering politicians and false prophets preaching from the Evangelical far right. And we get to choose if we will target transgender and other queer people or if we will help protect them from abuse stirred up by political and supposed religious leaders anxious to win votes and raise money. And these are just a few of the choices we get to make.

And we get to make them over and over again every day of our lives. Each time we find ourselves in a new situation we must decide how far we are willing to go to stand with those targeted by the dividers and detractors.

For any minority that seeks to impose its rule on the majority knows their path to power lies in dividing the majority so they may be conquered. The people, united, cannot be defeated.

Detail of a youthful-looking Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist.

What does all this have to do with Jesus and Christmas?

First, the baby whose birth we celebrate tonight did not come into this world to make peace with oppression. Jesus was not born to bolster the existing power structure of benefiting the Roman Empire and a very few of the Jewish elite. On the Christmas Day when Jesus was born, he appeared to be a child born outside a marriage to a poor couple. He may well have been an outcast, one accustomed to scorn from the ‘good religious people’ who gossiped about his parents and the circumstances surrounding his birth.

Perhaps that is why as an adult, Jesus cast his lot with the outcast and downtrodden: why he cared enough to heal the sick whom everyone else walked past without noticing. Perhaps that is why Jesus broke social convention and shared table fellowship with tax collectors. And perhaps that is why this son of Mary, the woman who said yes to the Angel Gabriel and accepted an outrageous proposal from God to become the mother of God’s only child, perhaps that is why Jesus breaks all conventions and allows women to participate as equals in his ministry.

Think I am ‘politicizing’ Christmas? Maybe you should re-read the Magnificat – the poem Mary sings after accepting God’s proposition that she give birth to Jesus.

Listen to how Mary praises God after she has said yes to Gabriel:

“{God} has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones

but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things

but has sent the rich away empty.”

Mary sounds like a young rebel intent on reorienting unjust systems. And that’s just what Jesus did in his life.

Jesus said: if you have two coats, and your neighbor has one, give one of your coats to your neighbor.

Jesus said: if you have extra food, and your neighbor has none, give some of your food to your neighbor.

When a lawyer asked Jesus to summarize the law, Jesus e reached back into the Hebrew scripture and answered: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

And then in Matthew’s version, he added, he said: “On these two, love of God and love of neighbor, hang all the law, all the prophets, everything that Moses wrote, everything in the holy prophets, everything in the scriptures, everything that God has been trying to tell the world … love God, love your neighbors, and while you’re at it, love yourself.”

That last paragraph is stolen directly from the sermon our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached at the recent Royal Wedding. It’s ok: I have his permission to borrow his words from time to time.

We’re called here tonight for more than a quaint story of a poor boy who made it big. We’re called here tonight for more than a familiar story or a vision of peace and goodwill. We’re called here tonight for more than a celebration centered on material things heaped around a Christmas tree.

We’re called here by a “movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world – and a movement mandating people to live that love, and in so doing to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself.” That last phrase was from Bishop Curry again.

Perhaps that is what this Christmas celebration is really all about. We begin this service on one of the longest and darkest nights of the year, a few days after the winter solstice. We sit in darkness as the service begins and a young person carries in the baby Jesus accompanied by one light, a candle symbolizing the light of Christ.

And then we get to choose between standing still in the dark and walking a spiritual path illuminated by the unconditional love of God for the world. You can walk with a movement of people seeking to live that love, to make it manifest in this time and place, to make God’s love incarnate again. Which is part of what Jesus did so long ago. If we walk in the light, we may change not only our own life, but also the very life of the world.

That’s right: you and I get to choose each year if and when Christmas comes to us: we get to choose if we will be walk a spiritual path taking us on a closer walk with God, or if we will dwell in the darkness that surrounds us.

So much darkness surrounds us tonight: it comes from Washington and Moscow; for Beijing and London; it flows towards us from leaders who choose personal power instead of common good; it surfaces in racist acts of individual people who call 911 and demand the arrest for people who barbeque while black or flee gang violence engendered by US policy and seek political asylum at our border; it assaults our ears with cries “Jews will not replace us” or a hate filled rant against queer people. So much darkness surrounds us.

But the power of light – the power of just one candle ­ can dispel the darkness and give hope to those who still dwell in darkness. So tonight you get to choose if Christmas will come this year. Say yes, and live in the light of God’s constant love.

Let us pray,

God of incarnation,

your angel host announces that peace has been born among us, embodied in fragile flesh.

With confidence in the power of that miracle, we bring before you our lives and hopes for the next year.

By your grace, transform our prayers from words to deeds, that we may live as a holy people in the dawn of your peace, redeemed from all that divides us.

May the Church say: Amen.

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