Virgin and Child Embracing by Giovanni Batista Salvi
A sermon from the Rev. Linda Mackie Griggs – Christmas Eve, 4:00 pm, 24 December 2018
Someone once told me that, for God, Resurrection is easy. It’s Incarnation that’s hard. Imagine being God, and squeezing yourself down into this fleshy unpredictable body, filled with emotions and plans and aspirations, faced with the highs and lows of making it from one day to another, weighed down by the past, uncertain about the future, and unable to rest in the present. Imagine choosing to be this fallible, and vulnerable, and finite.
It does give one pause. Emmanuel. God With Us – God With Us.
Chaotic, mixed-up, not-always-very-loveable Us. Wow!
Which is why we’re here tonight.
A few months ago I read an article called, “Becoming Human.” Only it wasn’t about God becoming human; it was a thought-provoking observation that we are not born human; that actually we become human by a process that involves negation– separating ourselves from different aspects of existence, specifically from God, from Nature, and from Society. The author says that we choose to become human when we establish our distinctness as individual creatures with unique capacities to think and reason within ourselves, without reliance upon an exterior Divine presence, or upon social pressures and demands. He says that when we choose to be part of this process we thus avoid the risk of falling prey to the echo chambers and groupthink that currently threaten to destroy us. And he has a point, especially in the current environment—we do have a responsibility to think independently and creatively as part of our social and civic communities. But here is what saddens me about his argument:
The author writes, “To be human is to preserve, inside oneself, against all forms of social pressure, a place of intimacy and secrecy into which the greater whole cannot set foot.”
Not even God.
How lonely that must be!
The author, Bernard-Henri Levy, is not a theologian. His perspective is more a view of what is, than it is a view of what we are called to be. I think he is looking at our world today and fears for it, and sees a remedy in a form of self-protection; nothing out there will protect us, so we need to protect ourselves. I wonder if he has actually shed light on something crucial; that we have, in fact, preserved those secret places he talks about too well, and as a result we are, as a society, more and more alienated from one another, from creation, and from the call of God to live lives of reconciliation and healing. So the question here is: Is negation and self-protection the ultimate goal of becoming human?
Nope. Negation is not the Good News!
We are here tonight because God says Yes.
Yes to Creation.
Yes to us.
Crazy mixed-up not-always-very-loveable Us.
So what does it mean to be human? It is the opposite of negation and self-protection. It is to seek relationship. We seek to love and to be loved; to return the gaze of love that we first knew as babies, gazing into the eyes of our parents. We seek it because we are made in God’s image, and God’s nature is love. Love is transitive—it needs an object in order to be complete. It needs a Yes—the relationship of one to another, mutually giving and receiving.
So the question tonight is not what is it for us to become human, it’s what does it mean that God became human?
A mother of a five-year-old settled her son into bed—story read, last cup of water, last trip to the bathroom, prayers, night-nights and I-love-yous said, door gently closed:
“Mo—om?” Sigh. “Yes sweetie.” “I’m scared.” “There’s nothing to be scared of—you’re safe in bed and I’m right in the next room.”“But. It’s DARK in here, and I’m all alone!” “You’re not alone, precious; God loves you and is right there with you.” “I know God loves me! But I need somebody with skin on!”
God has declared God’s enduring, abundant and undying love for us by entering into history. Entering the darkness that threatens to overwhelm us—that tempts us into giving up on a world wrapped in fear. God counters our no’s of anxiety, self-doubt and negation by calling us to bloom outward from our hearts; to risk embracing Creation and our neighbor—even the ones who drive us nuts.
And how better to do that than to be born among the creatures of God, on a night filled with stars, visited by smelly shepherds and Eastern sages, sung to sleep by the tired loving voices of his parents, as the angels’ music fades gently into memory?