The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas) – December 25, 2020
St. Mary – Derby, KS
Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalm 96:1-3, 11-13; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14
(Readings taken from Mass During the Night)
(1) A Disrupted Illusion, A Disrupted Peace
I’ve been here at St. Mary and living in Derby for six months now. And just like any transition, it took some getting used to. For instance, I had a membership up at the YMCA in Wichita, and they have great facilities, and so I would drive up K-15 to go there. I had to get my car fixed my first week here from an accident right before I got here, and so I had an appointment at Collision Works in Wichita. My dentist was up in Wichita. But then, slowly I realized: everything is right here. The DRC: five minutes from my house. Collision Works: five minutes from my house. Dentist: Chris Hickerson, five minutes from my house. Everything is so convenient here in Derby!
The amount of time that a person doesn’t have to leave their house here? I mean, there is no item too trivial, no quantity too small to be hand delivered into your home like an emperor! Anything! Anything in the world! Amazon Prime that up, and it’s two day delivery, same day delivery, two hour delivery! At no other time in the history of the world could you expect tropical fruit, a ribeye steak, Ethiopian coffee, and the biggest cookie in the world…in your house, hand-delivered to you, in less than one hour. No emperor in the history of the world could ever have dreamed that to be possible! We are gods.
But then…March 2020. The Pandemic broke all of that. All of a sudden, everything wasn’t convenient. Everything was inconvenient. The seemingly endless supply of whatever you wanted whenever you wanted it…dried up. The most prized commodity: toilet paper.
But even more than that, everything seemed like it started to fall apart. Everyone started to splinter, and along the strangest lines: mask versus no mask, black versus white, rich versus poor, pro-Donald versus anti-Donald, kids in school versus kids out of school, vaccine versus non-vaccine. And in the wake of all of this: broken relationships, violence, and death.
(2) The Contagion of Sin: We Cannot Fix It
The calm, comfortable and predictable life that we were used to—crumbled. And we acted like we stumbled upon a whole new world, a “coronavirus world.” But the truth? Nothing changed. Yes, there’s a new deadly disease. But nothing changed. Fundamentally, nothing changed. Personally, subjectively, we were woken up to reality. We were awoken from the illusion of reality we had been living—this status of emperor, this perfect and pleasant world—and we realized what had truly been going on all along. We realized that we’re not as in control as we think. We realized that we are not the masters of our destinies. We are, in many ways, powerless.
The great biblical theme throughout Advent is one that the prophet Isaiah spoke of: the people of God held in exile in Babylon, powerless in exile. And Isaiah kept speaking about the return from Exile, the people of God returning from exile in Babylon. God wants to bring them back to their land and give them Peace, to restore them, give them more, something brand new. But what do the people want: they long for “normal” (Is. 43:18-19). They just want things to go back to normal.
But we kind of gloss over an important part of that story. How did the people get there? How did they end up there? We think, “Oh, those poor Israelites. Big bad Babylon was so mean.” No. They were trying to make “peace” all by themselves. They went to Egypt for military help. They started making deals with Babylon to help them out. (And as a quick side note: in Scripture, “Egypt and Babylon” are metaphors for “Sin and Death”). And what happens when you make deals with Babylon, what happens when you make deals with Sin? It doesn’t work. It may work for a little bit, you may get your way for a little bit, you may live in “peace” and convenience and comfort for a little bit. But eventually the illusion will pass.
And when the illusion in broken, when people are in exile, they make great sweeping promises to God. They promise that they will change, that they will focus on what is important in life. They promise to never take things for granted ever again. And God delivers them. And then, about literally a week later, they start doing the exact same things again. They’re trapped.
We look at these scripture stories and we can very easily think, “You idiots. Why don’t you listen? God is trying to give you everything! And you keep sneaking off behind his back and thinking it’s going to go well.” But what do we keep saying and doing? “Man, I can’t wait until things go back to normal!” Right? And I think a lot of us feel that, and it’s understandable! We discovered how fragile everything is, how powerless we truly are. “We can put a man on the moon!” But we couldn’t control this. And we promised things too. We made great sweeping promises about how we would never take anything for granted again, how we would focus on the important things in life. And yet, we keep praying for things to go back to “normal,” for our lives to return to the comfortable and convenient way they were before. We promised to focus on the important things in life…and so now we’re building a $7 million monument over on Madison Street to one of our favorite “gods,” giving thanks that he returned to us this Fall, that he delivered us to victory yet again. In small ways and in big ways, we betray what we really think and believe and want: I want to go back to making deals with Sin and Death.
(3) Our Need: Restoration of Peace
What happens when you make deals with Babylon? Everything will start breaking down and falling apart. And eventually, “Babylon” will come for you, Sin will come for you—and you will be stuck in a situation that you can’t remove yourself from.
We know what this experience is like. We just lived it in a very very tangible way. Everything started to break down and fall apart. We are stuck in a situation that we can’t remove ourselves from—and I’m not talking about the coronavirus, I’m talking about something else that has its grip on us, a darkness. The more we try to fix it ourselves, the more things seem to splinter. And relationships start to break. Violence and death spike. And what do we long for? Restoration. Peace.
In Scripture, there is a very important word for this. And it’s probably one of the few words in Hebrew that you’ve actually heard. It’s called “shalom.” Shalom can mean a lot of things that are all related, but at its core is this idea that life is complex, full of moving parts and relationships and situations, and whenever one of these is out of alignment or missing, your “shalom” breaks down, peace breaks down, and life is no longer whole—it needs to be restored.
All throughout the story of scripture, all throughout the story of each one of our lives, we find this need for the restoration of shalom. If we pay attention, we know that there is something that has its grip on us, there is something that holds us captive. We know it because we’ve experienced the death and violence, we’ve experienced the broken relationships. And even if you don’t like pointing the finger at yourself, we all find it pretty easy to point the finger at someone else. But in a moment of honesty, we can usually discover our own role in it. And again, it’s not that we always went out trying to do violence and break relationships. But we can recognize that we made an ally of Babylon, we decided to try to make a deal with Sin…and before we could backpedal, as we were trying to fix it ourselves, it all fell apart.
Our need—listen now—if we really pay attention to our experience, our experience, we can recognize and feel in a very tangible way, our need for someone to bring peace, to bring shalom, to make us complete and restore us, to reconcile us to one another and to everything around us (to all of creation), to heal these broken relationships, and yes, even to undo the effects of violence and reverse death itself.
(4) Christ (Mashiach) and Lord (Kurios)
The people of God had a name for this person. The prophets spoke of a day when God would send someone to restore shalom. The Prophet Isaiah especially! He spoke of a great Light that would shine in the darkness, that would be a cause for joy, that would bring freedom from this yoke that holds us captive, and would bring shalom. He “named him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. And his reign is…forever peaceful,” there will be no end of peace (Isaiah 9:5-6). And again, not peaceful or peace as in “the absence of war” or “the absence of violence” (although that’s part of it). But a Dominion of Peace, a Kingdom where shalom exists forever—a kingdom where we are restored and reconciled, where broken relationships are healed, where violence and death have no power.
The name for this person? Messiah and Lord. Christ and Lord (c.f., Luke 2:10-11).
Listen again to the Gospel. “The angel said to them, ‘Today, a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was a multitude…praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace.’”
Where there was once only darkness, a light has shone.
(5) The Eucharist: Sacrament of Peace
The strange thing we do, though, is we now gather around this altar, where the sacrifice and death of Christ is made present. As the relationships around him broke down and his friends abandoned him, Jesus was led through violence to death on a cross. We find the striking conclusion to Jesus’ equally striking beginning. But what does St. Paul tell us? What happens because of this? In this infant lying in a manger dwells the fulness of God, and through him God reconciles all things to himself, and by the blood of his cross makes peace (Colossians 1:9-20).
This sacrament is a sacrament of the Peace, the restoration that Christ brings. And this sacrament we receive is only possible because of the Incarnation. It reconciles us to God, it restores what has been broken, and it restores us, it restores peace.
Right before we all come forward to receive communion, there is that beautiful prayer, and it is no accident that it is there. We hear, “Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” (Again, “sin” and “distress” are another way of saying “lack of peace/shalom.”) And then, “Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles, ‘Peace I leave you, my peace I give you,’ look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will.” We extend the sign of peace. We pray, “Lamb of God…grant us peace.” Peace and unity. Shalom, restoration, healing of what is broken.
By our participation in this sacrament, by our participation in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by our very being restored by this sacrament, we become heralds of the peace this new born king brings. Heralds of this event, this story.
There’s just one story. Light versus dark. At first glance, it appears that the dark has a lot more territory. But that would be looking at it all wrong. Once there was only dark. If you ask me, the Light is winning.