Isaiah 9, 1-6 X Psalm 96 X Titus 2, 11-14 X Luke 2, 1-14
December 24, 2015 at Saint Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, FL.
Sooner better than later each of us ought to stand in front of a Nativity scene like this one and ask a couple of questions. They are important questions that might seem rude, ungrateful or disrespectful. None the less they are questions that will lead us past what we see and deeper into the profound wonder of what we are celebrating here. If we do not ask these questions and begin to consider the answers we are no different from non-believers or like beginners in the ways of faith who just look and wonder: “Is that all there is?” The world in which we live answers “Yes” to that question, and by Monday morning the shelves in every store in this country will be cleared off cleaned up and set up for Valentine’s Day; because for them that’s all there is. For real believers however, the answer is “No” at which point the second question forms: “Then what does this mean?”
Theologians would respond like scientists telling us that this is about the “Incarnation” and then tell us more than we might need or want to know about two natures undivided in one person which sounded more like an algebra problem when I was really young. In the end, all of that, true as it is, does not answer the question: “What does this mean?” The richest tradition of our faith and our church says that what this means is that God has started creation over again, and using the Biblical figures of Genesis, there is a new Adam and a new Eve, and a new creation free of the past, free of sin and its consequence, the loss of God’s immediate presence. Adam, you know, was God’s favorite, the favorite of all that was created. There was Eve, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. They were as united as anything in creation could ever be. They enjoyed an intimacy with God that we can only imagine and desire. Adam and Eve had a freedom we can only envy. Without a worry in the world or any need, they were free. After all, God had made Adam in God’s own image. Yet they traded all of that for their own will rather than for the will of God, and they said, “No” to God.
In the restart of creation we are celebrating, the new Eve says, “Yes” and the new Adam chooses to be obedient to the will of God. With that, everything changes. A God who was distant and frightening is called, “Father”. A God hidden in a cloud and a pillar of fire has reappeared in the flesh and blood of human life. An angry, punishing God that really looks more like angry violent people is replaced by a Merciful, Loving God who’s Mercy and Love endures forever. After their fall from grace, God asks Adam and Eve what they are afraid of. Now in the new creation fear is gone. Lions and lambs can lie together as one of the prophets envisions. There is no fear, no fear of God, no fear of being alone which is at the bottom of all the fears that haunt the lives of those who never ask the question, “What does this mean?”
So while we might gaze upon this scene and think about our God coming to be one of us, we must go further because the birth of God’s Son is not all there is. The Incarnation involves our humanity. The human nature we have inherited is not human nature as it was before the incarnation. In answer to the second question about what this means, we find that redeemed humanity shares the very life of God. All human life now has been raised to new heights, lifted up to the divine. We call that “grace.” After all, what is “grace” except the nearness of God? This feast then is not just about God choosing to be with us, or about Mary and Joseph, shepherds, sheep and angles. This feast is also about us. It proclaims that we are with God. This is the starting point of our return home to Paradise.
We cannot forget that Christ’s birth, and every biblical event, is linked to the past, the present, and the future. The past is about Bethlehem. The present is about tonight in Naples, Florida; and about how we work with Christ to rebuild the world for the glory of the Father. We are not passive bystanders staring at a Nativity scene. What happened in the past radically transforms the history of the world and the personal history of each one of us. Because of it, each of us must measure up to God’s plan and play our proper role in it, and that is the future. No longer can we excuse our failures and our sins with a shrug and the comment: “I’m only human after all.” There is no “only human” anymore. Being human is no longer an excuse for being less than we have been called to be. Being human now is being the best of God’s work, the highest and most perfect of all creation. Being human now means more than ever before that we are reborn into the image and likeness of God.
This afternoon, I am standing here looking at grace, at beauty, at the face of God. I see people redeemed, made holy, living in Holy Communion with God through a sacrament we shall share at this altar a few moments. Blessed are you, people of God. Holy are you, faithful ones who live in the covenant that began in Bethlehem. Joyful are you when you do not forget how God has loved you enough to share your life, even to the point of death. Because of this truth, we can never say it often enough and believe it firmly enough. God is good!