And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her. In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country. (Luke 1)
One of the parishes my husband Matthew served always had a living nativity one day a year during Advent … it was a little manger scene in their parking lot you could drive by that was filled with straw and live animals and people dressed as Mary and Joseph and the other typical nativity characters. It was usually pretty cold so the shifts only lasted 20 minutes before new folks would step in. One year I was helping the different folks get dressed when a 7 year old boy came in from his shift and I asked him how he had liked being a shepherd in the nativity scene? “It was ok” he answered “but I think next year I think I wanna to be a pirate”. You know…the pirate that was at the birth of our lord.
Which of course is absurd…but let’s be honest, a pirate was just about as likely as a Drummer boy. Anyone who knows me well can tell you how much I hate that Christmas song the Little Drummer Boy. It’s like, the perfect example of weird things creeping into Nativity scenes. Like when along with the sheep and goats you occasionally see a pig in a crèche scene as though there were swine at the birth of our Jewish Lord. or the worst…those insuffereable Nativities that include a pius little santa claus kneeling at the manger.
Placing drummers and pigs and pirates and Santas in nativity scenes is obviously inappropriate if not just Biblically illiterate, but this week in one of my countless attempts to just get over myself, I had to admit that a drummer is not any less weird than a magi – those pagan Tarot card reading gypsie dudes from St. Matthew’s Gospel. All that is to say, I wonder if our over-familiarity with the Christmas story gets in the way of us understanding how weird it really was… I mean, if it involves pregnancies by virgins and old ladies from the hill country and soothsaying magi and rank shepherds and fearsome angels and God being born as a refugee in straw and mud then who’s to say a pirate or a drummer is so weird?
In a way, the story of Jesus’ birth is about God redeeming the whole world through making the impossible happen to the unlikely. Which is important to remember since within the first few hundred years, Christianity had lost it’s original dinginess, it’s origins of marginalized people and out-of-wedlock pregnancies and beloved prostitutes and dinner parties with all the wrong people and loving the enemy which all quickly gave way to respectability and fancy robes and emperors and pageantry.
But if you really look at the story of God coming to us in Jesus, how it involved such people of low-estate and scandalous circumstances it starts to not make a whole lot of sense that today being part of church so often means checking at the door any part of you that may have perfectly fit in at the weird birth of our lord. The parts of you that smell like they live outside or the parts of your story that seem scandalous like Mary’s pregnancy or kind of disturbing like Elizabeth’s pregnancy. It’s weird how much we’ve sanitized this Christianity thing Because anyone who thinks that respectability and status and being nice is what the Gospel is about never really listened closely to the original cast recording. Which includes songs sung by pregnant teenagers and pagan magicians and pregnant old women. Songs of pulling tyrants down from their thrones.
See, I think that if we were deciding the respectable and church-y way for God to come among us it would have been for God to appear already powerful as a grown human in raiment and glory in some place really impressive, like Rome. Or, like, at the White House prayer breakfast. And at our version of God’s great appearance on earth would be all the important people with titles like emperor and king and Chief Executive Officer and they would dress really fancy with those amazing sash things. And if we were choosing who should to bear the message about God’s coming it wouldn’t be John the Baptist, it would be like, Ted Koppel. Or someone with a low authoritative voice, a strong jaw, and a neck-tie. And then God would come to dwell with us surrounded with all the people worthy to be a part of such an impressive event.
But that’s not what we get in the story of Jesus. Because if God just acted in ways we thought made sense or that were respectable and predictable to us we could all just be our own Gods. Maybe even take 20 minute shifts at it out in the cold, wishing we could be a pirate instead..
But here’s the thing: God didn’t come to us telling our story. God came to us telling God’s story and God has always chosen the weirdest and most subversive ways of doing that.
I mention all of this because right about now that sounds like good news, beccause I am tired of our story. I’m tired of rationality and political posturing and over consumption and a world in which the tyrants seem to still be on those thrones. I’m tired of my own self-righteous notion that I am not one of those same tyrants. I’m tired of shootings and culture wars and genetically modified food. I’m ready for God to show up with God’s impossible story. I’m ready for some magic. To be enchanted again.
But this week I started to wonder if I miss noticing God’s reality of the impossible and the unlikely because instead I’m focusing on the important.
Because I think we often miss that God is incarnating the impossible among the unlikely because we are busy with whatever seems important to us instead. And I wonder if this is the same way people missed it in first century Palestine. Perhaps they were so busy at their prayers, that no one noticed God walking among them because God was inside the womb of an insignificant peasant girl rushing to the hills to visit her kinswoman and that’s not the kind of thing you pay attention to when you have important things to do.
But this is how God moves through the world – like how Mary is making haste. She is quickly walking by us still. Hastily passing us disguised as our children asking us to play and in the street worn man on the corner whose eyes I am trying to avoid and in the woman who just made my coffee and Mary is walking briskly carrying the Christ within her in more impossible and unlikely ways than we can possibly take in. This is God’s story. And it is all around us. And the impossibility of it all is exactly what continues to enchant this world of ours in things we think are just ordinary.
We see the impossible all the time, you know, we just think that if we can come up with a suitable and rational explanation: scientifically, psychologically or sociologically then it’s not really something God is doing. But that is just the hubris of a modern age.
So I dare to say this as this is the only Christmas sermon I get to preach this year: you brothers and sisters, you are an unlikely people of the impossible. We see the impossible work of God all around us.
For starters, take the fact that I, of all people, am a Lutheran pastor
And that having no religious background Kate Cash is part of a church and has now become our parish yoga teacher.
And that Quin born 1# 6oz just celebrated his 3rd birthday
And that another church would open their building and their hearts to us in the way St Thomas has
And, not to put too fine a point on it, but that a black man is the president of the united states.
And that Asher is a student at Luther Seminary
And that Rick has been sober for over a year
And that in this day and age despite every reason not to that people still gather and greet each other in the name of Jesus and pray and sing our hearts to God.
We are so surrounded by miracles from God that we name them as ordinary, ordinary and not worth noticing…kind of like an unwed teenage mother.
If we think this miraculous and unlikely thing of Christ being born into the world simply cannot happen again then think again. It happens all the time.