Friday, December 25, 2015

Changed by a Child - a Homily for Christmas Eve


            “Dear Max,
            Your mother and I don’t yet have the words to describe the hope you give us for the future. Your new life is full of promise…
            Like all parents, we want you to grow up in a world better than ours today.”
            These words begin a letter written earlier this month by the parents of a baby girl named Max, a child who has already changed them. The letter goes on to describe how life is different today than it was for her parents when it comes to health, poverty, technology and knowledge. Max’s parents then make a vow to play a vital role in improving life – not just for Max – but for children around the world.
            The parents then write, “As you begin the next generation of (our) family, we also begin the Chan Zuckerberg initiative to join people across the world to advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation…We will give away 99% of our Facebook shares – currently about $45 billion – during our lives to advance this mission…We want to do what we can, working alongside many others.
            Love, Mom and Dad”
            The birth of Max is a game changer.
Max had been in this world barely long enough to catch her own breath when her parents realized they were called to play a role in helping a world of people keep their breath. Max’s birth birthed fresh hope, bold visions, extraordinary generosity, and deep retrospection in two parents whose gifts can now touch and transform the lives of thousands of people.
A tiny baby his father swaddled in a brown robe, dressing her up as a Star Wars Jedi last week has made a profound impact.
            “Your mother and I don’t yet have the words to describe the hope you give us for the future. Your new life is full of promise.”
I cannot help but wonder if the same words may have been pondered, penned or prayed in a borrowed barn in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago as the child who provides more hope than any child ever born on earth came to a young, unwed, poor mother, part of God’s plan to transform the world in ways that even $45 billion cannot buy.
We’ve gathered tonight as people who may not be expecting to see or hear anything new. People flock to churches all over the world on Christmas Eve in hopes of singing the same songs we sung last year, lighting the same small candles, and hearing the same words of scripture about a young family making a journey to pay their taxes only to find there is no room at the inn. Many of us know this story by heart. There are images of it in some of the Christmas cards currently stacked on our kitchen tables and in manger scenes we remove from their boxes every December, placing the Marys, Josephs, and baby Jesus’ on a shelf with a couple of cattle nearby if we purchased a deluxe set.
And while we may not expect anything unusual to happen this night, I’m convinced that God has another plan. The parent of this child wants everything to be different – changed – touched – transformed because of his Son named Jesus. This child is meant to be a game changer.
While some of you here may be able to recall moments in our nation’s history where people were acutely aware of the power of war, racism or a downward economy, I cannot recall a time when I proclaimed the good news on Christmas Eve while feeling the heavy, nearly paralyzing weight of our collective fear as a nation and world.
Uncertainty lingers in the form of unbridled gun violence. 
“Black Lives Matter” is now a mantra that is not spoken because of one particular incident but because of numerous incidents that tragically keep on occurring in cities across our nation.
Darkness fills a tiny country in the Middle East where archaeologists and scholars once flocked to see incredible ruins while pilgrims went to walk down a Damascus street where God caught up with Saul and transformed him into Paul, but where Syrians now flee in hopes of finding light and life in another land.
And you and I live with the reality that even a holiday party at a center for people with developmental disabilities is no longer off limits when it comes to terrorists and their tricks.
The rod of oppression is real whether it’s the awareness of how many people in our city have no place to call home or how the family who sat behind me at a downtown Cosi is no longer welcome by everyone since the mother and two of her daughters were wearing a hijab, making them known as Muslims in the same way the crosses around our necks mark us as Christians. But we are not the target of a presidential candidate who believe anyone professing faith in Allah may be a terrorist who must have every aspect of their background checked before they enter our country.
Is there anything we can do to stop the violence, the racism, the oppression, the terrorism, the madness?
A clergy colleague has felt a tugging on her heart recently, a sign that indicates God may be calling her to new places. She can articulate a call to do something about gun violence, and she keeps talking to different people about what role she might play. But she came into my office earlier this week to share how people are not sure there’s anything she can really do. We may be past the point of no return.
But what if the child whose birth we celebrate tonight assures us that nothing is past the point of no return – no person, no amount of violence, no amount of darkness, no amount of sadness, no amount of oppression, no amount of terrorism, no amount of burden no matter how heavy the burden might be because one has come who has increased our joy. A child has been born for us, a son given to us, and his name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Jesus was brought into the world by a Father who knew his son could provide hope for the future.  This child’s life was full of promise! Prophets foretold how he would advance human potential and promote equality in a way that none of us can, no matter how gifted or resourced we might be.
What would it mean for us to lay our eyes on this child tonight as though we were seeing him for the very first time?
Imagine taking him into your arms, and allowing his beauty to take your breath away, getting a hold of your heart.
Imagine being convinced that he has been born into your life – a gift of God given to you.
A child disrupts every sense of order or schedule a family may hold.
What if this child is to do the same for us – to awaken us in the night – anytime we see pain that we can actually play a role in alleviating; to force us to feed someone who cannot feed him or herself; to push us to embrace someone who can experience healing by the power of being held by another; to tell someone we’re not going anywhere – that we’ll sit with them through the night until everything is okay again, until the scary thing that has entered our room is finally gone.
One of the greatest gifts offered by a child is that a child helps us see that life is no longer about us. Our priorities have to be placed aside as we care for a tiny person in our midst.
But that’s also the greatest gift of this child whose birth we celebrate tonight. Jesus teaches us how to give ourselves away more than any other person or thing can while helping us learn that the more we give ourselves to others, the more we experience life and light in the midst of darkness.
We may even hear the rod of oppression being broken with our own ears!
Will you allow his birth to change you, perhaps even transform you?
Will you allow a child to push you to give away some of what you’ve worked hard to amass – your time, your talent and your resources – because you now see how you are called to be a part of healing the brokenness of the world around you?
Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother and in his name all oppression shall cease.
Let it be so.


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