Christmas Day A, 2001
Luke 2: 8-20
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CHRISTMAS: THE SEASON WHEN ALL THE RULES CHANGE
Let me tell you a Christmas story I am sure you haven’t heard before!
Once upon a time there was a famous painter.
He lived at court part of the year,
and alone in his hermitage the other part.
He loved to paint, everything and anything.
He painted for nobles and politicians,
for farmers and army commanders
and children and royalty,
usually whatever they wanted or desired.
He had an uncanny ability to depict things so realistically,
his drawings and paintings took your breath away.
One day someone asked him:
“What are the hardest things to draw and paint?”
Unhesitatingly, he answered,
“Horses, dogs, cats, insects, and most especially faces of the old and children.”
Those who were listening to the conversation were very surprised.
Someone asked: “Well, what is the easiest?”
His answer was, “Ghosts, monsters, and especially dragons.”
They were dumbfounded. A voice piped up, “But why?”
The painter was serious and responded,
“Think about it. What do you see all the time? Common animals,
birds, plants and people. We’re used to them. They are as familiar
as our own hands, and any defect in the drawing is glaring.
We see it right away.
“Because no one really knows what ghosts and monsters
and dragons really look like, I can paint them wildly, fantastically, grotesquely,
even amusingly, and everyone is pleased.
They have no definite shape.
They are loose in our minds.
“But people - they are so hard to paint truthfully.”
At Christmas, all the rules change.
All of us have thought we knew what God looked like.
I hear it when people talk following a tragic death of a loved one.
I hear it in prayers, and church debates.
I used to hear it on street corners.
Now I read it in pamphlets stuffed in my letter box
by charismatic and fundamentalist churches.
Often, they are as fantastical, whimsical, or without definite shape,
as there are minds to imagine the sacred.
At Christmas though, we are given sight of God/the Sacred,
and traditionally speaking g-o-d looks like
every mother’s child,
every woman and every man ever born.
The great mystery now is that because g-o-d is so familiar,
because g-o-d looks like every one of us,
it is hard to tell who g-o-d is.
Sometimes discovering the g-o-d given moment
in ordinary people and daily events can be difficult.
Many of us have been taught to expect g-o-d
in the spectacular,
in the dramatic,
in the supernatural.
If this is how you have been nurtured, then I admit,
a Christmas which invites you to see an incognito g-o-d
in the midst of ordinary people and daily events,
might be more disturbing of your faith than comforting.
But this is, I reckon, what is meant by incarnation.
This is g-o-d’s justice and peace.
This is g-o-d’s presence among us, now.
American theologian Sallie McFague suggests that Christianity is
“...the religion of the incarnation par excellence. Its earliest and most persistent doctrines focus on embodiment”.
Australian David Tacey concludes,
the new spirituality brewing within Australian society at the moment, will:
“...truly be revealed as the mystery and silence at the heart of everything we do and feel. God in Australia will not be proud, haughty or exalted but, rather, everyday, horizontal and earthly”.
While just for good measure... historian Clement Miles suggests:
“The God of Christmas is no ethereal form, no mere spiritual essence, but a very human child, feeling the cold and the roughness of the straw, needing to be warmed and fed and cherished. Christmas is the festival of the natural body, of this world; it means the consecration of the ordinary things of life, affection and comradeship, eating and drinking and merry-making...”
More than 600 years ago,
a male Catholic Christian mystic and theologian asked:
"What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the son of God 1400 years ago and I do not also give birth to the son of God in my time and in my culture?"
The mystic was Meister Eckhart and he was certainly not a fundamentalist.
His theology was a way of talking about lively realities.
He was also talking metaphorical,
not only about "son of God,”
but also and startlingly about "give birth."
His question is as sound and as solid as I could imagine, even these long centuries later.
Because I reckon Eckhart's query is about
birthing new qualities into a waiting world that needs them.
Not through some other source alone, but also through us,
in the place we each uniquely are.
This is the promise and the provocative challenge of Christmas.
So this Christmas,
amid the wrapping paper and turkey bones and empty wine bottles…
become sensitive to those opportunities in each present moment,
when our incognito g-o-d is in the midst
of ordinary people and daily events.
For it is g-o-d who acts in us,
and g-o-d in other people who receives our actions.