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Christmas Eve Message: December 24, 2010
“Turned Upside Down”
And she gave birth to her firstborn
son and wrapped him
in bands of
cloth, and laid him in a manger, because
was no place for them in the inn.
thousands of other births that night -- some in palaces, some in ordinary
houses, some in tents and some out in the open. By all rights this birth in
Bethlehem in a manger behind the inn should have been little noted nor long
remembered. Of course to the parents, like most parents, it was that most
amazing of miracles -- that moment when long nurtured hope turned to profound
joy. But the Bethlehem Chronicle doubtless carried no announcement of
this birth. Maybe a few curious shepherds might have heard something about it
and three itinerant astrologers may have stopped by a few days later, but the
mass of folks looking for someone special that night wanted a new King leading
an army to take back their land from the Romans not just another baby boy.
once suggested that few babies born that night had less favorable prospects then
this baby boy named Jesus. And yet this baby grew to be a figure that turned the
world upside down. And that’s not some preacher’s rhetoric but a fact.
Humankind’s history is fundamentally divided by the birth of this baby into BC
and AD or the more modern BCE and CE -- not by the rise and fall of the Roman
Empire or some other political juggernaut or by the life of some famous,
powerful political or military figure such as Alexander the Great or Augustus
Caesar. Two thousand years after that night, billions of people do what we do
here and take special note of this birth. Even those who doubt that this baby
was and is special –Christopher Hutchins, Richard Dawkins and others like them
-- are affected by this event with all its incontestable staying power, whether
they like it or not.
The chief function of a baby is to turn things upside
down. From the very beginning a baby rearranges the order of a family’s life.
Everything is different—there is new furniture, new toys, baby clothes, and baby
bottles. Everything that touches or comes near that baby is changed --
especially the other members of the family. And that is what this baby born in
Bethlehem does -- turn everything upside down and inside out -- just on a much
more universal and profound scale.
when the upside of heaven comes down to earth. The idea of divine love wrapped
up in a human being, born into our world --that idea changes everything.
Christmas rearranges in our minds the importance of things. Place,
status and power go to the end of the line while humility, kindness, compassion
and generosity move to the front. The order of things in our world looks
different at Christmas time in the reflected light of divine love. The titans
and typhoons, the celebrities and stars, the politicians –all the movers and
shakers---fade into the background and the ordinary folks -- who feed the
homeless, teach the challenged and heal the sick -- shine brightly. Christmas
reminds us that the first shall be last and the last shall be first and we best
be rearranging the parade of life.
And finally Christmas redefines who our neighbors are – those folks
we are to love as ourselves. The baby Jesus grew up and in his teaching he said
that a neighbor is anyone who needs your help and that includes the hated
Samaritans, crooked tax collectors, and prostitutes. Neighbors aren’t just
persons like us, those living in our community or at least coming from a similar
background, sharing our circumstances, our ethnicity, our skin color, our sexual
orientation, our values or our religion or any religion at all. They are the
full panoply of human kind –no exceptions! What a powerful idea and coming from
such a small, insignificant event -- the birth of yet another baby, occurring in
an out of the way place with no one of importance in attendance. And yet as
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian once rightly said, the knees of the
world’s leaders shake and bend before only two things the cross and the manger.
light of Christmas shines in the darkness of our world, and the darkness did and
does not overcome it and the world never was, is or will be the same. This
night that light of divine love shines on each of us – all we have to do is
reflect it out into our world. Even if we aren’t that perfect light, we can
still be a mirror. Amen