Monday, December 17, 2012

Living Gospels: Christmas Message

For me Christmas is the most remarkable time of the year, it is a time when the words leap from the pages of the Bible and they become flesh.  When I was a college student I helped with worship at my home church in Plattsmouth.  It was an early service and a good number of folks in the pews were part of my family.  I had been a part of that service as long as I could remember and I knew them well.  A few weeks before Christmas, I looked out and saw people smiling, they were singing and smiling.  Startled, I assumed they could hear my less then great singing and rather then all out laughter they were politely smiling.  I stepped back from the lectern, I step forward and recheck the microphone, it was off, I stepped as far away as I could and the smiling continued.  Which was an awaking moment, people just love this season.  They took the words of joy they were singing to heart.  This moment may have happened in Plattsmouth but I have witnessed it other places, people don’t always sing hallelujahs with an inspired spirit.  But at Christmas, the words become flesh and they dwell among us and within us and we sing them out like we mean them.  It is a season when we delight just a little bit more in giving, it is a season when we make choices about our money with an eye to the folks and organizations we love, it is a season when we live the story of faith by caring for people we don’t even know and inviting folks we might disagree with during the election cycle to share a meal at the family table.  

More often than not we allow the ink on the page to dry up rather than taking it in and living it out.  We can focus on exact meaning of each word, study how often that word is used, search for the where and why.  And even with the best intentions we can let the words on the page stay there.  We can hunt for the words we want to find and put them up against the folks with whom we disagree and they toss their scripture up right back.  We can forget that the word becoming flesh, doesn’t mean defending words on the page as much as it means defending the relationships we have with our neighbor.  Barbra Brown Taylor speaks of this as mistaking the words on the page for the realities they describe, loving the ink marks more than loving the encounters that inspired people to write them.
We might ask why Matthew sets the stage with a history linking Jesus to big time insiders like Abraham and David, as well as defiant outsiders like Ruth who traveled with Naomi and vulnerable women like Tamar.  Luke sets the story differently, not so much about the 14 generations before Joseph but about the angel that invites Mary into this work of giving life and about Mary’s family Zechariah and Elizabeth, the everydayness of their struggles and joys are lifted up into view just as Mary sings the ancient Hebrew song of God lifting up the lowly.  Matthew and Luke are different and we somehow we do the most remarkable thing of all at Christmas, we allow them to be different.  There are not historic rivalries between folks who favor Luke’s Angels over Matthew’s Dreams.  We don’t take sides of the Christmas narrative, arguing that John’s Gospel starts a lot earlier than Luke or Matthew by connecting Christ’s birth to God’s creative presence saying, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.”  Folks who might privilege the Gospel of Mark and the Letters of Paul, the early birds of Christian writers, don’t have bumper stickers banning shepherds and wise men from the nativity as a conspiracy to re-write history.  No they are all different and they are all true.  

The gift of Christmas is that we seem to do our very best at bring the words on the page to life, it doesn’t matter who said what, it matters that we sing the journey with the wise ones that sensed God in the stars and set off to follow.  It doesn’t matter that Luke writes a different story it matters that we are terrified with the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night and open their eyes to God’s radiance that inspires them to get on the move without even finding a sheep-sitter.  When the word becomes flesh it is overwhelming and surprising, before they were chapter and verse they were encounters that left people stuttering.  Before the word was Greek or Hebrew it was a moment that left some one speechless.  At Christmas we greet the word made flesh in the manger, the ink is alive with the sweat and blood, the words resound with the hard won tears of labor.  The gift of this season is to take it all in, to open our eyes to the sacred all around us, the gift of the season is to take it all in and let the word be part of our flesh, to do the work of Christmas with our own hands and to walk the journey of Christmas with our own feet.  May we be inspired by the vulnerability and the resilience that is seeded within each of us and may we boldly live this season of grace all year through.  

Rev. Debra McKnight