24 Dec 2020
Saint Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church Budapest, Hungary
Isaiah 62:6-12; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:(1-7)8-20; Psalm 97
For reasons I can now no longer remember, I attended Christmas Day services once decades ago at an inner- city African-American Church, perhaps at the invitation of a colleague, not really knowing what to expect. I must admit I had a bit of trepidation. After all, I white and came from a traditional and staid Roman Catholic and later Anglican background. Still, it turned out to be a beautiful, spirit-filled service with warm and friendly people and wonderful music in the best gospel tradition. But what has really stayed with me from that experience all these years later is the sermon preached that day with the kind of passion and enthusiasm Black preachers in the United States are justifiably famous for. And, in answer to the age-old question of Incarnation -- why did God become human -- the preacher had his own answer. God became one of us, he almost whispered to the congregation, leaning over the pulpit, and with a big smile on his face; God became one of us, he said, because God thought it would be a lot of fun. He got, by the way, a lot of amens and alleluias at that line. So, feel free to add your own now if you like. On mute of course... I must admit I had never before thought of the Incarnation in quite that way. As being a lot of fun -- for God or for us. And, I am not at all sure what the Bishops gathered at the Council of Nicaea centuries ago would have made of it. They gave us after all the memorable formula of the Creed, “for us and our salvation he came down from heaven.” And, “For our sake, he was crucified.” God became man or human, in other words, to save us from our sins, to redeem us at the Cross. And there cannot have been much fun at the Cross. Still, that preacher decades ago had a profound point, one with roots going back to the medieval theologians at least, many of whom contended that God would have become one of us -- become Man -- even if we had never sinned and were now sitting, not huddled at home on Zoom, but under a palm tree in the Garden of Eden. So much did God love us, these ancient theologians maintained, that he could not stand the thought of, well, social distancing between himself and his people. No danger of contagion though, one supposes, except perhaps from the contagion of love. If God indeed thought it would be a lot of fun to be human, I can only hope he has not been disappointed in his decision to join us for a spell here on everyone’s favourite planet. After all, God’s Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in many ways did himself not have an easy life. He certainly did not have the conveniences of the twenty-first century. Plagues and pestilence were an almost daily occurrence -- not once in a lifetime. Our Lord’s father may have been of the House of David, but that did not put bread on a lowly carpenter’s table. Jesus had his share of annoying relatives too, do not forget, many of whom did not believe in him. Foreign troops menaced the land in which he grew up; and unscrupulous political leaders exploited the average people mercilessly and lavished favours on their rich friends. Not exactly the best of times or most favourable of circumstances in which to be born.
Still, this Christmas Day I would like to hope that God is still having a lot of fun among us humans with all our quirks and worries, our sins and failings. After all, he did not just begrudgingly become one of us to finally patch over the rift caused by our sins and transgressions, get the annoyingly difficult job done on Calvary, and retire home to eternal heavenly glory. Rather, God genuinely loved us. And loves us still. And, love always brings presence not distance; joy if not sometimes fun. That in a sense is the whole meaning of our Lord’s title, Emmanuel. God-With-Us. Not just back then. But now. Not just rooting for us from a heavenly perch. But genuinely with us. In other words, as one contemporary commentator has put it, Christ was not God’s Plan B. Sin or no sin; evil or no evil; temptation or not; we in Christ are God’s Plan A. The Incarnate Christ is there for us and with us from all eternity. God could not bear to be separated from his people, from us. And, that apparently is God’s idea of fun. Now, it is understandably difficult to think of fun this Christmas in the midst of pandemic and perhaps the worst world crisis any of us here today has ever seen or experienced -- or ever hopes to see and experience again. Fear abounds. We take our lives in our hands simply going to the grocery store. Travel is difficult or nearly impossible. And, those we love the most are in many cases now distant from us, unable to visit because of restrictions and rules; quarantines and lockdowns. Our Lord himself, had he chosen to come now -- which I frankly would not have advised -- would likely have had his Holy Family Airlines flight cancelled or at the very least ended up in a two-week quarantine upon arrival in Bethlehem. Little in the way of hugs and kisses this season, I am afraid. Where is the fun, we might be tempted to ask ourselves, in hiding our faces -- the image of our humanity -- from others. In knowing that breath -- that ancient symbol of life itself -- can now bring with it the seed of illness and possibly death. Where is the joy in any of this...? But in asking we forget of course that our Lord did come to be with us in just such trying times. And, he still comes to us in every new day and challenge; in every childbirth; in every life lived; and yes, in every death. Difficult to say, I suppose, whether God made the right decision -- from God’s point of view -- in becoming Man, or human. Does the Good Lord have regrets...? Second-thoughts, perhaps, as he considers the whole state of Christ’s Church and the world...? He could, after all, had simply signed an executive pardon for all of us from the comfort of his heavenly mansion -- even though we do not deserve it -- and got back to the heavenly choirs and their music. No real need to pack up kit or an overnight bag and come down to save us. But I for one would like to think God is happy with his decision. Happy to have united in the one person of Christ both himself and humankind; himself and us I would like to think God is still enjoying himself this Christmas. And if the Lord’s joy and delight should mean anything to us today, let it mean hope. Not just for the cures and vaccines we all yearn for. But hope for genuine healing and redemption in our world. Hope is after all the final gift of the Incarnation; God’s Christmas gift to us today and every day. “Joy to the world,” we sang with gusto moments ago in spite of our worries and fears. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” The Lord is indeed come. He comes to us today. And, he is here with us today, filled with delight and joy in his creation; and in his Christ. And, if God and the angels are filled with such joy -- and fun -- this day, should we not be also?