December 25, 2016
Finding it difficult to believe
There is something wonderful about having adult children. I got to get out of bed this morning when I was ready. When they did get out of bed, there was complete understanding that any and all family activities needed to keep in mind the appointed hour for worship – and my sermon preparation. There are many things wonderful about having adult children.
But one of the things you miss is the opportunity to explore outlandish claims as reality. Young children, with their naiveté and constant willingness to be amazed allow us all to participate in exploring the boundaries for believing things which rational persons would readily label as impossible.
None of the homes in which our children remember living had a fireplace. But we still found a place to hang our “stockings with care, in hopes that St. Nick soon would be there.”
One of the social media chains I found enjoyable last night were LCM Alums asking one another which of the “Rain deer tracking apps” had the best sound effects.
What I miss has nothing to do with a dark desire to mislead children, what I miss is the excuse to admit that Christmas Day is nothing, if it doesn’t include breaking the boundaries of believing things which rational persons would readily label as impossible.
The presence of small children allows us to make outlandish claims and never bat an eyelash. That is why Christmas is just not the same if you don’t have small children around. Who else is going to believe this impossible story? Christmas Day is nothing, if it doesn’t include breaking the boundaries of believing things which rational persons would readily label as impossible.
Okay – let’s admit it – there are a lot of things about this story which make it a bit “outlandish”.
I promise this is a safe space – do I have your permission to risk exploring those parts of the story which we tell this morning as outrageous violations of reasonable thought?
1 – The virgin birth. Our questions about this have less to do with our high school biology lessons than the absence of a course in the development of Roman mythology. The earliest of the Christian writers don’t include a virgin birth – Mark, Paul. As we move forward in history, still before the birth of microscopes, the virgin birth is a way to speak of innocence and the arrival of one so unlike anyone ever before birthed. There is no biological explanation suitable to explain the person who Jesus emerges to be.
2 – Wisemen from the East. Okay – you follow a star, I get that. But when I look at the stars I don’t see them pointing to a particular place on the map. And that line about the star coming to rest over the place where Jesus was born – a star would have to be continually moving to remain over one spot on the earth, because of the earth’s continual rotation. Again, astronomy isn’t what we need to learn. The outlandish claim which the star allows us to make is that the birth of Jesus has implications for every person regardless of their interest in the religious convictions which arise from Jerusalem.
3 – Angels singing to shepherds. You have to start with the angels themselves. As a fan of country music, I hear more than my share of references to guardian angels and instances where “Jesus takes the wheel,” but when was the last time someone with a straight face told you they had seen an angel floating in sky and singing a song? You will tell me – of course it doesn’t happen every day. The reason we observe this day – Christmas Day – is because it happened in this instance.
I could go on. But I imagine you have other activities scheduled for this morning so I will stop there – assuming that I have sufficient by-in to my assertion that Christmas is all about probing the boundaries between what is believable and seem to many an idle tale.
Having small children around allows us to repeat these claims, as if speaking to them, and thus providing the chance for us to believe these things, too.
I long for the presence of an innocence which allows us to believe what any rational person would quickly label as ridiculous and impossible.
(This is corner which this sermon either turns or falls flat on its face.)
That for which I truly long, is innocence which allows me to believe the future ramifications of the outlandish story first told in Bethlehem. In so many ways it is much easier to believe in flying reindeer than it is to believe that peace on earth can truly come.
That for which I truly long, is innocence which allows me to believe the future ramifications of the outlandish story first told in Bethlehem. In so many ways it is much easier to believe in a virgin birth than it is to believe that non-violence and non-resistance will overcome hatred and selfish ambition.
That for which I truly long, is innocence which allows me to believe the future ramifications of the outlandish story first told in Bethlehem. In so many ways it is much easier to believe in virgins having children than it is to believe that every innkeeper or homeowner will open their hearts and doors so that no one has to sleep in the cold or wet of a winter night.
We waste our time attempting to tell our children stories which amaze and surprise them if all we tell them is gifts of gold and frankincense and muir making their way to a little baby lying in a manger. Take the risk of telling them that the birth of Jesus means everything about life has changed – and the birth of Jesus means that we are changed and that is why our lives might not look like the lives lived by others. The little bitty pokes at reality and rational thought invite us into a Norman Rockwell painting. But the significant outlandish claims made on this day confront us with a whole new view of the world and our life in it.
Oh how I miss having small children in my home on Christmas Day.