Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Gift of the Gospel Story

My sermon from our Christmas Pageant on December 23, 2012

Why do we do this? Why do we tell this story—why do we act it out, and get all dressed up, and wrangle the kids into line? It can’t just be because it’s cute (though it is!).  

We do this because we want every one of our children to know the Gospel as their fundamental story. And we adults probably need reminding, too. Every role in this story is a role we will play. We will be Mary—God will give us a word that we are called to birth into the world. We will be Joseph, and be faced with challenges and sacrifices in order to be true to our faith. We will be the shepherds, witnesses and evangelists to the wonder of God. We will be the Magi, people with gifts to offer to God, and who will bow down and worship our Lord. We will be sheep… creatures who flock together for safety, and who need a shepherd to guide us. We will be angels—messengers of God, who bring Good News to people who need it. We will be Herod—we will be threatened by God and battle between protecting our own interests and being open to God’s interests. And we will be Jesus, in a way. We bearers of the name of Christ are called to be healers, to be teachers, to be Christ’s hands and heart and feet in the world. 

The Gospel is not a story that is all sunshine and rainbows and glitter—we only get hints of it today, but evil is here. Mary and Joseph experience the exclusion of refugees who find that there is no room for them, balanced by the compassion and faith that God will make room, and that even a barn can be a holy place, even a manger can be a cradle and a throne. And perhaps most poignantly this season, Herod is in this story. The Magi return home by another road not because they want to see the sights but because they want to protect Jesus, the fragile and vulnerable child, from his murderous rage—a rage that will find its expression in the slaughter of the innocents a few verses later in the Gospel.  

But with all the darkness in the story—which of course, continues on to Calvary and the empty tomb—it is a story of light. A story that says that God’s love for us is greater than our own sin and that ultimately, at death life is changed, and not ended. We don’t do Easter pageants in this country. But the more I think about it, the more I think that maybe we should. We do Christmas Pageants, and we act out the passion gospel on Palm Sunday, but we never act out the Easter story—and we should. We need to hear the resurrection narratives as much as the other two. Because these stories together frame our faith in a way that we are putting in a box, tying up with a ribbon and giving to our children this year and every year as the greatest gift under the tree.  

And we need them to open that box and take this story out and live it because the world will tell them—and us—a different story. And as we learned again two Fridays ago in Newtown, our children need to have the gift of the Gospel story at such a young age, because the world’s story is reaching them younger and younger. The world will tell them to fear their neighbors rather than love them; the world will tell them to hold on to their own space rather than sharing their barn with a stranger; the world will tell them that listening to angels and following stars is for the foolish and not for the wise. The world will tell them that Herod is the most powerful person in the story; and we are here to say no to that. Herod is not the most powerful person in this story. Jesus is. And Jesus wields his power not through worldly domination, or wealth, or violence, or threat, but through love, vulnerability, compassion, and self-sacrifice.

And today 25 kids here learned that a little deeper. And we all remembered it after a few weeks of getting hammered by the world’s story. So it’s a good day. Good work. Now we n eed to put on our own angel wings, and go out into the world and proclaim the good news from the mountaintops. Jesus is born. God is with us. Hallelujah! Amen.

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