(A sermon based on Luke 2:1-20 for Christmas Eve 2013)
Imagine with me that we are standing outside in a wide open space, perhaps a prairie or a desert. As we look off in the distance, we see the horizon, the place where the sky seems to intersect with the earth. That is not in reality what is happening, of course, but the metaphor of the horizon might prove helpful to us tonight, a night when we talk, with great reverence and wonder, about a night when heaven came into contact with earth—the night when Christ was born.
Imagine with me that we are there that night when heaven comes down to earth. If we can assume that God knows more about reality than we do and that those in heaven know more about reality than those on earth do, what do the events and words of that night show us about the way things really are? Perhaps if we pay close attention we will come to know some of what heaven knows. And if we come to know what heaven knows, it just might change the ways we think about and approach life here on earth.
Heaven knows that God’s way in the world is a human way. God has always worked through people to accomplish his will on Earth. When God sent his Son as the Savior of the world, that Savior came as a human being, delivered into this world as all other human beings are. Granted, his origins are extraordinary; he is the eternal Word of God who was somehow “of the Holy Spirit”; but still, he was carried for nine months in his mother Mary’s womb and he entered the world through labor and pain and messiness just like we all did. And he then lived a life of labor and pain and messiness just like we all do. In Christ, God entered our world as one of us. Because Christ is in us, we continue to live his life of service and sacrifice so that others might experience the love and grace of God. Heaven knows that God’s way in the world is a human way.
Heaven knows that God’s way in the world is a humble way. The baby born in Bethlehem was the Messiah; he was the anointed one who came in the line of King David, which means he was the King for whom Israel had looked and longed. What a strange king he was, though. He was born not in the capital city but in a small town; he was born not to royal parents but to a peasant couple; he was born not in a palace but in a stable. And he was laid not in a fancy and comfortable crib but in a feed trough. God’s way is to work in and through the humble in order to lift up the humble and to bring down the proud. Heaven knows that God’s way in the world is a humble way.
Heaven knows that God’s way in the world is a revolutionary way. It is no accident that the Gospel writers are careful to place the coming of Jesus in an historical and political context. It is no accident that Jesus was born into a country that was under the domination of a great empire. It is no accident that Jesus was called the King of the Jews. It is no accident that he came preaching that the Kingdom of God was among us. The juxtaposition was and is clear: God’s kingdom was and is far different than the kingdoms of the world. Jesus came to instigate a revolution, a revolution that favored giving over getting, forgiveness over revenge, grace over legalism, love over hate, and acceptance over rejection. Heaven knows that God’s way in the world is a revolutionary way.
Heaven knows that God’s way in the world is a wondrous way. The shepherds went away praising God. Mary pondered in her heart all that had happened. It’s really all so amazingly unbelievable; it is, frankly, too good not to be true. Perhaps the best we can do is stand in awe of it all, try our best to accept it, and let God help us to live in light of it. Heaven knows that God’s way in the world is a wondrous way.
The horizon is where heaven and earth seem to come together. On that first Christmas night, the boundary between heaven and earth was breached and heaven’s way broke into the world. Think about this, though: there is a horizon every day; there is no day when heaven and earth do not intersect. They intersect whenever we live out Jesus’ way of life in the world; they intersect whenever we live out of our full humanity, when we live out of real humility, when we live in a truly revolutionary way, and when we live in praise and wonder. The story of Jesus’ birth lets us see what heaven knows about how life really is and it lets us see what way will finally, when all is said and done, be seen to be the most true.
So now we know what heaven knows. The question is what will we do with such great knowledge?
It is time to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. What will it mean for him to be born in us today?