Today - this Christmas morn - while countless others gather 'round the tree and lots of presents, we gather in this church, 'round a great mystery.
The Incarnation - that God took on human flesh and came and lived among us - is one of the Great Mysteries of our lives of faith.
The Incarnation is a mystery second only to the mystery that is God.
God, who shaped and formed the world - our universe, our cosmos - and set the stars in the sky and ordered the sun and the moon to obey and rule the night and the day and the seasons and all creation and creatures of this earth, this same God created us and entrusted all of creation to humankind and gave us the gift of Free Will.
Because we do not always use this gift wisely or well, God became one of us, to walk with us and teach us how to walk with God on the path that leads us back to Paradise.
It's all a great mystery - how it all works - but here's the thing about Christmas: It's what makes us Christians.
Not Santa Claus. Not his eight tiny reindeer. Not Frosty the Snowman or Susy Snowflake.
Christmas makes us Christians.
Believe what you will about the Virgin Birth or the Atonement or the Resurrection or even the Trinity. We have Free Will. You can believe what you want - and, God knows, many Christians do.
But, if you don't believe in the Incarnation....if you don't believe that Jesus is God incarnate....well, why call yourself a Christian?
And, if you are a Christian, why not strive to walk in His ways? If you do, just be prepared for a few surprises to appear on the path you walk with Jesus.
Let me give you an example.
I've been caring for an elderly man in his nineties who, among his other many physical ailments, suffers from what is known as senile dementia. He sometimes doesn't remember things - important things - like, his wife's name or, some times, his own.
He recently asked me to bring him communion. This was a huge request. He has been a Roman Catholic all his life. Well, up until twenty-five years ago when he divorced his first wife and remarried a woman who is a devout Presbyterian. Because of his divorce and marrying "outside the faith," he has been denied communion all these 25 years.
As soon as we began to say the "Hail Mary" together, he began to weep. Big, fat tears filled his tired, cloudy blue eyes and rolled down his hollow cheeks. "I've said that prayer to myself, alone, every night, for the past 25 years," he said. "It feels so amazing to say it out loud with another person."
We then said the Lord's Prayer together and again, he wept. After he received communion, the man wept and wept and wept for joy. When he was able to collect himself to speak, he said, "You, my dear woman, have made me a new Catholic."
I smiled and said, "Well, let's not tell the Pope." And, we laughed and laughed through our tears.
And then, he cleared his throat and said the most amazing thing.
"Do you know why we couldn't eat of the fruit of the tree in the Garden of Eden?"
I prepared myself for the "traditional" theology of the sin and wretchedness of the human condition. I was totally unprepared for what he was about to say.
"Well," he said, "it's because we were not yet ready to eat of that fruit of the tree. And, it's because the fruit itself was not yet ripe. We had to wander around for centuries, straying far from God, while the fruit of the tree continued to ripen. Finally, when the fruit was ripe, it hung from a tree in Calvary and finally, finally, we were ready to learn that, no matter how far we stray from God, we can always eat of the fruit of Wisdom and find our way back to God."
I sat there, astonished. Now, I've read more books of theology than is probably healthy for one body and I can tell you that I've never read anything that sounded anything anywhere near that. It's mostly about how we are wretched creatures and miserable offenders who need a savior.
Hearing that we weren't yet ready and the fruit not yet ripe enough with wisdom was astounding and marvelous to my ears.
I said to him, "Good sir, I believe you have made me a new Christian."
He smiled mischievously and his blue eyes twinkled and he said, "Well, let's DO tell the Pope!"
We gather around a mystery this morning, to begin anew our walk with Jesus. We can take baby steps at first, just as he did. Just plan to be surprised as you walk along His path.
Don't be surprised if you find yourself, one day, on the path that leads into a wilderness desert to confront some of your own demons.
Or, to be confronted by the poor and hungry and find yourself strangely moved to care for them.
Or, you might stumble upon someone left to die on the side of the road and suddenly find yourself organizing the community to care for him.
Or, you just might find yourself witnessing an injustice and suddenly become involved in a political battle to bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice.
I don't know how that happens, exactly, but I know it's a mystery that begins with the mystery of the Incarnation.
I also know that it is a fearsome thing, indeed, this idea of the Incarnation - of Emanuel - of God with us. Which must be why we hear the angels say - as Mary heard and we read the shepherds heard - "Be not afraid."
Be not afraid.
God is with us.
Jesus is born unto us.
It is a mystery 'round which we gather.
Be not afraid.