Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Christmas Eve 2017: And Am I Born to Die?

Good evening, and welcome to the 363nd Christmas of this church. Whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever your belief or unbelief, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or something else, whether you worship Christ or simply admire him, I am glad that you came here tonight.

Christmas Eve is not church property, it is a public holiday with different meanings for different people, and all those meanings are welcome here. For Christians it means the dawn of redemption, the good news of the birth of the Savior.

For Jews it is ambiguous. The birth of Jesus anticipates so much Jewish suffering inflicted by Christians, and yet, this boy and his mother are Jews, so that the hopes and dreams of Israel are of unique and eternal significance for all of humanity. Christmas Eve is a Jewish gift to the world.

For Muslims it means that the prophet Jesus, Issa, peace be upon him, was born of a Jewish virgin named Mariam, and Muslims love Mary more than Protestants do. They also believe that Jesus never died—that he was born not to die. This is one of those places where we differ in our stories.

Do not think it strange that our quartet is going to sing that Appalachian gospel favorite, And Am I Born to Die. Why that dark note on Christmas Eve? Darkness belongs to Christmas Eve no less than the light. I mean we’re all going to die, all mammals die, all vertebrates die, but we are born to live. Jesus was born to live. But he was also born to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and the strange thing about the human condition is that if you do that all your life, you will suffer for it, and you may well die from it. Memphis. Tienanmen Square. Multiply examples.

If you speak up, they’ll take you down. If you persist, they’ll silence you. If you resist the harassment of your boss, your career will suffer and you’ll lose your job. Yes, I mean the Me Too movement, praise God, and it’s remarkable that this old Christmas story is so relevant to it.

The Virgin Birth of Jesus means many things, but if Mary conceived him in her womb by the Holy Spirit (notice, not by God the Father, but by the Spirit), if she conceived him without the seed of any man, that means the total repudiation of male privilege, that means the absolute exclusion of masculine power from the firstborn of the new creation; Mary is an Eve without an Adam, thank you very much. And her song we call the Magnificat is as revolutionary as a song can get and still be legal.

And he is his mother’s son. He shares her DNA, and in fact no one else’s. Picture this newborn in the manger clenching his tiny fist. Me too! Of course his clenched fist is natural for infants, but take it as a symbol, a symbol of resistance, resistance to evil, resistance to violence and falsehood and oppression, the baby is born for the resistance. Which is why King Herod wanted to kill him and they had to flee to Egypt.

Not the armed resistance. That would be the male privilege and the masculine power, but the resistance of his mother, not a life-taker but a life-giver, who persisted through the scandal of her pregnancy with her purpose and belief. The persistence of her light shining in the darkness, and the darkness cannot quench it.

There are many meanings to the birth we celebrate tonight. We celebrate the young woman who bruised with her heel the head of the serpent. We celebrate the young woman who said, like Abraham, Here am I. We celebrate the mother who, like Abraham, walked with her son to the point of his sacrifice. We celebrate her son, who learned the Jewish way of righteousness and brought it to the poor and the outcasts and the meek of the earth. We celebrate her son, who took the Jewish forgiveness of sins and in dying offered it to all the world. We celebrate her son who took the Jewish hope for the resurrection and extended it to all the peoples of the world. If I am born to die, it is because “it is in dying that we are born unto eternal life. Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

We celebrate peace instead of war. We celebrate wisdom and understanding instead of conniving and manipulation. We celebrate welcome instead of exclusion. We celebrate angels singing to poor shepherds instead of to the comfortable entitled ones. We celebrate God with us. We celebrate a baby!

I was speaking last week with one of our younger members, quite an activist—demonstrating, marching, calling Congress—who told me that she was considering immigrating to another country, because she so despairs about the direction of our own. I asked her if she had any hope. She said, “Actually yes, from my friends having children. They’re having babies. I get hope from that.”

A baby calls us back to our best basic instincts: welcome, shelter, peace, inclusion, our own self-sacrifice, and most of all, unconditional love. Yes, someone else’s baby! The baby raises her tiny fist for the revolution of love. Mary’s love, your love, God’s love. Her tiny fist will open up to clutch, to hold, embrace, and in good time to bless and to heal. This is the Lord’s revolution, the revolution of love to which we bear witness when we celebrate tonight with all this music. Not only joy, but hope and love. God bless you one and all.

Copyright © 2017 by Daniel Meeter, All Rights Reserved.

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