Christmas Eve Sermon from The Rev. Linda Mackie Griggs for the First Celebration of the Nativity with Pageant 2019
“Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
What would have happened if it had been three wise women instead of three wise men who visited Jesus? They would have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts.
It’s an oldie but a goodie as memes go, but it relies on two erroneous assumptions; first, that the birth of the Messiah was an ordinary occurrence, which it was not. As we’ve heard tonight the Gospels of Luke and Mark tell of an event foretold by prophets and marked by the cosmos—a wandering star, songs of angels, wise ones from far beyond the borders of a tiny Palestinian town. Anything but ordinary, and therefore worthy of extraordinary, if less than practical, attention.
The second and related assumption, or takeaway, is that Christmas is a time when things should go as planned. Lists made, itineraries checked, all in order and on schedule. No glitches. I ask you, when has that ever happened? We have a vision of perfection– Perfect gifts, perfect tree, perfect décor, perfect meals, perfect behavior of children and relatives—we set the bar high, perhaps because our vision is based on commercial culture, or the softened memories of Christmases past, or on the hope that we can create something we wish had been but have never been able to achieve.
But stuff always happens. The tree falls over, the kids fight, the gravy is lumpy, the Christmas cards don’t arrive on time to send them before New Year’s. And in addition to that, the ordinary challenges, crises and aggravations that can confront us any other time of the year just seem worse when they happen at Christmas. At a time when we think we should have things most under control is when things seem to go off the rails.
And that’s the point. The baby born in a stable because there was no room in the inn comes to tell us that we are not in control, as much as we would wish otherwise. A child heralded by stars and angels instead of midwives and housekeepers calls us to expect the unexpected—to make room for something hopeful, if not perfect. A Messiah in swaddling clothes invites us to see things as God sees them—in new and surprising ways.
Look at our pageant tonight. What can be better than a Gabriel with a built in silver halo to remind us that angels come in all guises? (And this one happens to be named Faith) Who better than a young person like Maya or Peyton to show us that no voice is too young (or height too short) to participate in telling the great Story of God’s relationship with Creation? And how wonderful to have a great group of grownups willing to engage playfully in intergenerational storytelling—encouraging us to see Mary and Joseph and the Magi in new ways.
Where Jesus is concerned we need to expect the unexpected, because perfect as we understand it is overrated. In the Bible the Greek word for perfect is the same as the word for whole or complete. Which flies in the face of the idea that Christmas, or our lives at any other time, should be meeting unrealistic standards that we set for ourselves. God calls us to wholeness, which includes the whole spectrum of what life throws at us. And God invites us to remember, as we contemplate the Holy Family surrounded by shepherds and angels that God is God, and we are not.
A God who desires our wholeness rather than our perfection is a God with skin on, who became flesh and walks the journey with us. A God who desires our wholeness rather than our perfection is a God whose cradle was a feeding trough, whose parents became refugees, and who grew up to dine with tax collectors, touch lepers, defend women from misogyny, heal the sick, stand up to the powerful, and confound everyone’s expectation of what a king should be—even to his death on a cross. A God who challenges us to wholeness asks us to hold ourselves and our expectations lightly—to greet our blessings with a spirit of generosity and gratitude, and to greet our challenges with courage and the willingness to be vulnerable to God’s grace and care.
God is God, and we are not. What we are, is beloved beyond measure by the God who became one with us on that first Christmas night. May that love enfold us, support us, challenge and encourage us this Christmas and in the days to come.