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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

One true thing

Christmas Day Sermon
All Saint's, Rehoboth Beach, DE
(the Rev'd Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

I have a couple of questions, this Christmas Day, for you to keep and ponder in your heart.

The first is this: What if?

The second is like unto it: Would the significance of this day change if some of the things you know about this day were proven to be untrue or inaccurate?

What if the birthday of Jesus was not December 25th? What if, as some scholars now say, his actual birthday was sometime in March?

Knowing that, would the significance of this day change for you?

What if the whole ‘born of a virgin’ thing were wrong? 

What if, as some biblical scholars say, the Visitation preceded the Annunciation? What if Mary had been a rebellious teen and ran away from home to go visit her cousin Elizabeth in the high country and, while on the road had been attacked and raped – a very common occurrence in those days (and these, as a matter of fact)? 

What if, as some scholars posit, the words of the Magnificat, which were Mary’s response to her vision of an angel of the Lord who told her that she was with child and that the infant in her womb was God’s child – what if those words and that whole story were the words of a young girl suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome after having been raped?

Knowing that, would the significance of this day change for you?

Let’s look at this a little closer to home.

What if what you really wanted for Christmas was an iPad or a Kindle or a tablet? Or,an iPhone or some sort of smart phone? Or a specific piece of jewelry or a pair of boots or a kitchen gadget or a power tool?

And, what if you got some wonderful presents but you didn’t get what you really wanted?

Knowing that, would the significance of this day change for you?

What is the one true thing about this day that makes it significant?

If you believe Linus and Charlie Brown, the Peanuts Cartoon Characters, it’s the Birth Narrative from Luke’s Gospel. But, what if that story is not exactly true?

If you believe in Santa Claus, then whether or not you got the present you wanted could really make or break this day.

If you believe in the picture of American family life presented to us by Norman Rockwell, then unless every member of your family was happy to meet in one place at one time, all round the same table, with the same huge turkey and all the extras, and the perfect Christmas tree, and all the perfect presents and all the perfect relationships with all the perfect, smiling, happy people . . . if that’s not going to happen for you today, then, this day might just be torture for you.

What is the one true thing about this day that makes it significant?

I don’t know about you, but here’s the thing for me: Today, this one day, we boldly proclaim and rejoice and celebrate the belief that God became human.

Now, I don’t know about you, but that is a very difficult idea for me to wrap my brain around. I confess, I still don’t really understand it. 

I can somehow get that humans can become God. Psychologists have a word for it. It’s called “self actualization”. They say that, when we fully live into our true selves, when we actualize our potential, we are able to possess incredible potential and possibilities – God like and miraculous.

So, I get 'humans becoming God' but 'God becoming human'? Wow! Why would God want to do that? I mean, if you’re God, why would you want to give up all your powers and come and be with mere mortals? 

Why would you want to show them the path so that they might become self-actualized? Why would you want to teach them to be better human beings and live in peace and harmony with each other, when you could just sit on your heavenly throne and smite down anyone who caused trouble?

I submit to you that this one thing – this idea of Emmanuel, of God with us in the newborn flesh and blood of  Jesus, the theological doctrine we call The Incarnation – is the really, truly significant thing about this day.

Everything else – the virgin birth, the trip from Gallille to Bethlehem on a donkey, the shepherds who watched their flock by night and heard voices of angels from on high, the visit of three wise men from the East? – All of that? Details. Important, but just details, really.

Indeed, I’m going to be so bold as to proclaim that The Incarnation is the one, really, truly significant thing about being a Christian. 

The Atonement? The Resurrection? The Ascension? None of those doctrines make any sense – or any real difference – if you don’t first believe in The Incarnation. 

That God became human. And, that this fully human, fully divine God came and dwelt among us.

I saw a bumper sticker the other day, which said, “Instead of putting the Christ back in Christmas, how about we put the Christ back in Christian?” Indeed.

My Christmas wish is that some of the so-called "Christian" leaders in Congress might put the 'Christ back in Christian'. Maybe then, there wouldn't be cuts to Food Stamps, and allocations for war, and tax loop holes for the rich.

Here's my Christmas present to you today. It is a question, perhaps some of the same questions that Mary pondered in her heart as she looked at the newborn child she had just delivered. 

In order to appreciate this gift, you are going to have to suspend all logic and all rational thought. Just for today - just for this moment in time - I'm going to ask you to allow your imagination to roam and let go of old answers and allow yourself to consider these question.

What if The Incarnation were the one significant, one true thing about today? How would that change the way you spend today? How would that change the way you spend your life? How would that change the way you see yourself? How might that change the way you treat others?

What if, in this newborn understanding the Incarnation today, you gave yourself a Christmas present and understood something different about who you are and why you are? 

How might that change and transform you? 

How might that begin to change and transform the world?

If we allowed ourselves to be changed and transformed by the knowledge and mystery and miracle of the Incarnation, might we have a chance to achieve "peace on earth and goodwill" to all?

If those things were to happen, how might the significance of this day change for you?

Merry Christmas and may God bless us all, each and every one.


8thday said...

My journey has brought me to believe that we are ALL God incarnate and that Jesus (among others) came to remind us of that. So, to me, this is a day to remember that I have incredible power to love and create and care.

And I wanted to add that although I am not a church goer, I would go a long way to hear you preach.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, 8th Day! Merry Christmas

IT said...

Wise words, as ever. Much joy to you and Ms C. for the season and for a healthy and prosperous new year.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks IT. Merry Christmas.

Martie Collins said...

I suppose you're right about the literal truth of the Christmas story, but I wish I could feel better about it. I would consider myself a liberal Episcopalian, but I have never had any problems believing in the virgin birth, the star, the journey of the Magi, etc. In fact, they have given me something to hold onto in times of doubt. Now I feel as if I am begging to be allowed to keep my illusions. What does one do about this?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dear Martie - I hope you didn't get from my post that you don't have to believe in "the details". It's perfectly fine if you do. I just wanted to say that we ought not get lost in "the details" and forget about the central thing about Christmas: The Incarnation. That God came and lived among us in the person of Jesus. That God dwells in us. And, that because of this one true thing - this one amazing miracle - all miracles are possible.

Believe is a choice. Faith is the energy we invest in the beliefs we choose. You don't have to beg to keep your beliefs. And, don't let anyone try to take them from you, even if you can't prove it. I mean, we can't really prove The Incarnation, can we?

Just believe.

Merry Christmas.

Martie Collins said...

Thank you.

And Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family.

JCF said...

I like that bumpersticker. Want!

Matthew said...

Hi Elizabeth, so I just watched a podcast of an excommunicated Mormon/ former Mormon who has lost some of his former faith and when asked the question about incarnation said, "if Jesus Christ is not incarnate he should have been; if Jesus Christ is not the son of god, he ought to be." wow. Any comments.

P.s. can send you the link to the whole thing but this bit starts 12 minutes in

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Wow, Matthew. That's really amazing. Thanks for sending me the link when you get around to it.