My friends, in the nearly 15 years of my priestly ministry, I have come each year to the Christmas Season wanting to share a story that uplifts and makes very plain the true meaning of this miraculous season—the great action of our God for each of us. Only twice have I come across stories that are spot-on in depicting what Emmanuel, “God- with-us” really means.
I’ve shared both stories several times over the years, because a really, good story can be heard and appreciated more than once! Both stories that I am referring to are about men who learned God’s true intention in the Incarnation through the experience of their own lives.
One man had the job of shining shoes on a street corner of his hometown and always wished for more of this world’s material goods. Through what we might call, “a Christmas miracle,” he had the opportunity to obtain several wishes granted him to experience not only material riches, but power and control over others—over everything really, or so he thought.
Not a believer in any higher power, nor a praying man, he discovered one day, as he was seemingly “ruling over everything,” that many of his subjects were praying “to God,” and not wanting anyone to be higher than himself, he made his final wish and that was to be like God if God were to appear on earth, and “miraculously” found himself back at his shoe-shine-stand. Not in power, but in lowliness the Scriptures say.
The other story is similar in that an unbelieving man who could never quite get his “head around” the Christmas story—that of God coming to earth, “to be one-with-us,” discovered one night, as he tried to save a flock of geese who got lost in a storm, and get them to shelter, the true meaning of the Incarnation. It seems that the geese were afraid of the man trying to shoo them into the safety of his barn, and only when he disguised himself and took on the “look” of the geese, walking as they did, flapping his made-up wings, would the geese begin to follow him to safety.
Too many times friends, over the span of our lives, well-meaning tellers of the Christmas story have tried to explain it from their heads—theologically, instead of from the heart, where the message originated in the first place, and have caused the message, the story, to stop there. An angry God, needing to be appeased, sent his own son to die for the failings of humankind. Such a story I think leads us all to “beat our breasts,” feeling guilty and not really very joyful.
Yet the Scriptures throughout Advent and Christmas time speak of joy—the joy of a young woman, Mary, who said her “yes” in faith to the God of Love in her heart. The joy, no doubt, of her partner, Joseph when he learned that he too was called to be part of the Incarnation. The joy of an older woman, Elizabeth, who recognized the presence of God within her younger relative and proclaimed that joy, “How [is it] that this should happen to me…that the mother of my [God] should come to me?”
And yes, there are those Scripture passages, like the reading from Titus that Elliot did for us tonight so wonderfully, that still cling to the idea of Jesus’ coming being all about “salvation…to redeem us.” It is important when we hear such readings to go that step deeper that I always encourage for us to get to Jesus’ true message. The “salvation” that has always been offered is NOT about “redeeming us,” but “showing us the way,” to be our best selves. “A light,” Scriptures say, “shining in [our] darkness.”
Jesus was incarnated among us, looking, and acting like us, just as in the story of the geese, so that we could more easily, and clearly, hear and trust and believe how much God loves us.
Even though Church fathers try to lift up Jesus’ “kingliness,” his “sacrificing” for us, which cuts into the joy of this blessed season; we would do well to listen to the words of the “mothers” in this season instead, who exult in the “fruit” of their wombs and their ability to share this simple, yet so precious gift of life with our world. And incidentally, this is the work of Christmas—sharing the Good News that God is, truly, “with us.”
That our God would love us so much to become poor, simple, and one-with-us, in order that we could have a clear example of how best to live our one, amazing life, is cause for the greatest joy, really, in my mind. The power and control that the shoe-shine man sought in his life, only to find out in the end, were not what would make him happy, no doubt caused a “sea-change” in him if he was able to wrap his heart, rather than his head around the concept.
The Christmas story, friends, if we really delve into it, asks us too, like the shoe-shine man, to consider a God, not of power and control over us, but one who loves us in an over-the-top way, simply because, WE ARE, and for no other reason. Choosing to become one-with-us in our simple, poor, and imperfect humanity so that we would not miss this point—of God’s profound love, or ever be afraid of this life force within us, is a cause for great joy!
The joy that we instinctively feel at this time of year, as we reach out to others, within our families and among our friends, is the true mark of “God-with-us,” whether we be Christians or of any other religious group. Our God, who is love, is always, “chasing after us,” as one Scripture translation tells us, wanting to be part of our lives, in all the rejoicing and sorrowing times, and asks us to reach out in the same way in order that people could truly see the face of our loving God and in that way, know that they are loved and cared for too. The truth of it is friends, most of us only know that we have a God of love, if they experience that love through us. This is the work of Christmas and should continue all throughout the year. May we each know God’s wonderful love now and always—and that is our challenge, to make sure that anyone and everyone we encounter knows that they are loved—through us! Amen? Amen!