Saturday, December 25

Christmas Day Sermon: A Dissonant Joy

This is a season of joy! It is Christmas. Yet there is unhappiness all around, this nice story some certainly think is full of holes. A child in a manger, all this supposed hullabaloo about one particular baby. And if we attempt to make this event and Jesus Christ fit all of Isaiah’s prophesies it doesn’t quite seem to add up to this, the Christ, born of obscure parents, in a feeding trough. The child come, God come as a child, it resonates, and yet it is discordant with the anticipations. So what are we to do with this dissonance, this story that strains credibility? Part of what to do is to remember as our texts this morning remind us that on this the feast of the Nativity we aren’t simply at the stable in Bethlehem, we aren’t even at one point in history. What prophets and those who write about Christ’s coming after, leave us with is irresolution. It doesn’t fit; we may even cringe a bit, but this isn’t the whole of it, we are to go on from here to something else.

Such joy is expressed in Isaiah, such overwhelming awe in Hebrews and John. Yet there is dissonance and irresolution. I want to say that Christmas Joy is found in this dissonance. That the joy of Christmas is knowing that God comes in such an unlikely way in such an unlikely place that even as God’s prophets foretell they also shrink from what comes. This is great joy but it leaves us unsettled or at least it should. God’s coming is a great joy, but God’s coming doesn’t let us alone. God’s coming, walking in our midst, and being one of us means that we are unsettled, perhaps even a bit disappointed.

Christmas as a child was like this: my anticipation of what gifts I might have. Wrapping paper hiding what was underneath. Very rarely did the gift match my anticipation of it, even if it was something I wanted. Do I remember the particular gifts of all those Christmas’ now; do I remember the particular disappointments? No, what I do remember is the love, the celebration, the family and friends and church gathered to celebrate our salvation. This is what I remember. Christmas as a child was certainly focused on the gifts, but since they were given in celebration of God’s gift of becoming one of us, the disappointments, the frustrations, the contradictions of those celebrations dissolve and what I remember is joy and love.

As with the gifts of my childhood, what we have in this gift of God as one of us, in this gift foretold by the prophets and announced to us by the apostles isn’t ever exactly what we want or expect. Yet how could it be. We have God, the one who in the beginning created the Heavens and the earth. The light before there was light, the one who shines forth in darkness and from which we who are in darkness shrink, as our eyes are unaccustomed to the light, and its brightness.

We are God’s own because we are God’s creation, God came and we failed to receive God. But God knew this; this was not a surprise to God, though we think it surprising. For we sit here and we see an infant and think how delightful, how cute. But really how blinding, how terrifying, God, comes to us helpless, vulnerable, as one of us, now joined to God’s creation, joined to matter and human flesh. Better God come as Isaiah sees it obvious without ambiguity, without complexity, just the simplicity of God’s otherness that will shake us out of our sleep and stupor.

But God comes to us joyfully in the new life of an infant, in poverty and homeless. God comes even knowing our rejection, and God calls to us through all the pain and suffering and violence of life and calls us into Joy. God asks us to receive this horror with joy, asks us to be moved from ourselves, to come shielding our eyes into the light, to come out of ourselves, to be other, to receive this one who is both one of us and not like us at all!

Do not think the joy proclaimed today is the merely comfort and harmony already achieved, a joy of already being who we are. No today’s joy is the revelation of dissonance between what is and what should be, between our desires and what will be and what comes. The joy of this season is the joy of being sent on our way. It is the joy of true ecstasy, of being taken out of ourselves. For God became other than divine, became human a creation, other than God’s self, to be with us, so we are called out of ourselves, to be other than we are so that we may be truly ourselves.

Oh what joy that reveals such dissonance, that makes us aware of a harmony we have yet to reach. In Christmas Joy we are not only waiting but propelled forward in joy, a joy we must allow to well up in us in order to face what is still ahead. For this is just the beginning. We can’t stop here. If we think this is the point, if we think the birth of Jesus of Nazareth is what brings peace on earth, and good will, we will be disappointed. But like the trinkets of Christmas in my childhood this gift of an infant and a birth aren't the point, the cross and the tomb are already here, The holy innocents are just around the corner.

Our joy is not about resolution, but that God has come and sends us on our way that we are brought beyond ourselves that the Gospel creates in us longings for things other than what is, and other we are. God comes and says if you can accept this you are more than you think you are. Come journey grow with me. Come into the light and see that you are not who you think you are. What Joy, what joy of being freed from our imaginations, and anticipations, and invited into the actuality of a God who became human, that we may be other than ourselves that we may become divine! God becomes human, like us, that we may be come like God, divine. Alleluia, Christ is born. May Christ continually be born in us, alleluia!