Friday, December 21, 2007
Is a miracle still a miracle if it happens all the time? For example, the sun coming up every day isn't really a miracle because, let's face it - we expect it and it's a fairly reliable thing after all these years. But if you lived in a cave your whole life and came out one day to see your first sunrise, chances are you'd think it was quite a miracle. Or if you'd been an angel who saw the very first star and the very first sunrise, you'd have thought, "Holy of holies! That's a miracle!" Our would you? Maybe it wouldn't be such a big deal if you constantly saw God doing such things.
I don't really know where I'm going with this line of thought, or if it will really have anything to do with the sermon. Let me share a dirty little secret with you blog readers: Christmas sermons are among the hardest to write for pastors, especially year after year. How many angles and stories about the angels can you find? When it comes to Christmas illustrations, we've heard them all. People send me cute Christmas stories that they got in an email, thinking I might be able to use them. And while I really appreciate the thought, an emailed story probably means everyone else has heard it. And I've probably told it already and forgotten that I did by now! So there are some challenges in this Christmas sermon thing. There's also the feeling I have that so many people are really desperately wanting something special from a Christmas Sunday or Eve service. They're tired, they're hurting, and lots of times family "crud" comes out or gets worse around Christmas. Something about Christmas and the end of the year makes us look inside ourselves a little bit more and that isn't always a pleasant thing. We see all the stuff - addictions and habits and ugliness inside - that we pledged to get rid of on Jan 1, 2007. Yet it's still there, maybe worse. All of this can come home to roost at Christmas. So people need a good dose of hope and joy - and I feel that too. I seldom feel up to the task of throwing out this lifesaver; my rope feels too small, or I wonder if there's anything on the end of it to help at all.
And then that mysterious, heart ripping truth surprises me all over again; blindsides me like a semi-truck. Last night I was watching The Nativity Story (the 2006 version with the Whale Rider teenage girl who got pregnant right about when the movie came out). Ana went to bed, Malia got bored and went up to her room, my mom fell asleep in her chair. So I was left watching this all by myself. It's a little slow in parts, but really good too. At the risk of being a spoiler for the story, I'll tell you that Mary has the baby. Even though I've seen this story, read this story, preached on and dug into this story countless times, something ripped into my heart when I saw it happen. Mary gives birth in a dirty, lonely cave-stable, alone except for Joseph and some animals. It hurts. No epidural, no meds, no help. Joseph doesn't know what he's doing. When this baby is born, though, the shepherds and wise men soon appear, and one of the wise men says, "Eternal God, wrapped in a baby." Are you kidding? How? What kind of thing is this? Who could make it up? The compassionate genius of it levels me, knocks me out. Somehow, in a way I can't explain or really grasp, it changes everything. God becoming me and you, coming into the world in such lousy conditions means that he really, really, wanted to love us, change things, know us, invade, start a different Kingdom. It's just wonderfully absurd. And it means that there's more than just some temporary joy or hope. There's God with us. - Curtis