My Ideal Christmas Sermon – That I Wish I Could Give

My Ideal Christmas Sermon – That I Wish I Could Give December 24, 2015

Editor’s Note: Andy, an active UCC pastor gives a no-holds-barred rendition of the Christmas sermon he would give if he felt he could be totally up-front about his beliefs and could tell his congregation what he thinks they should know. He says that he has come pretty close to this already. I don’t doubt it. I’ve heard similar stuff in other liberal churches.

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By “Andy” Atheist UCC Pastor

A star guiding Magi to the manger in Bethlehem—ridiculous! What a joke.

Star of Bethlehem Adoration_of_the_Magi

Fact is, some modern progressive Jesus scholars claim the story was even meant to be taken as a joke when it was first narrated, a way of poking fun at the outlandish astrological signs (pictured above as a comet) associated with the birth of Roman Emperors. I’m not so sure about that. To the pre-scientific world of the first century, stars were specs of light affixed to a canopy not far off the surface of the earth. It’s not such a leap, from that perspective, to think that one of them, a particularly bright star, could designate the location of another king, that being Christ.

In any case, whether the ancients took the story as a spoof or as historical reality, I claim my right to call it a joke, a remnant of a religious thought-world that simply doesn’t work for me anymore. Imagine for a moment–given our enlightened, modern understanding of stars as molten suns. For such a body to be able to identify a specific street address (or manger), the star would have to be so close to the earth that it would incinerate everything—including the baby Jesus! It’s just ludicrous.

From this I deduce the underlying psychosocial dynamic at work in all miracle stories:

Humans are supremely important, so important, in fact, that nature must accommodate human needs and desires.

Is this not the motif behind all miracle stories in the Bible? Something special about humanity has to happen, so God interrupts the laws of physics to aid humans:

  • Parting of the Red Sea for a clever escape from Egypt
  • The sun ‘standing still’ to effect Israelite victory
  • A flood to wipe out evil (and an ark to save the righteous few)
  • A virgin conception/birth to send a Messiah

In the age-old philosophical debate as to which is more important, nature or culture, I vote with nature!

Diogenes of Sinope and the Cynics are my heroes!

Diogenes_looking_for_a_man_-_attributed_to_JHW_Tischbein

Humanity is not above nature, or even distinct from nature; we are a part of it. We swim in it; we bend to it; we obey its norms. The idea that human culture is in some way ‘over and against’ nature is not just obtuse, it is also dangerous. It is dangerous to our planet, to our eco-system, to the air and water we require for life. We are not a privileged class. We can’t depend on some divine intervention when sea levels rise, or we run out of natural resources, or can no longer breathe the air without a mask. No help is on its way. We can no longer rape the environment with impunity and expect immunity from nature’s prosecution!

I’m done with Christmas. It’s too dangerous to life on earth. Instead I’ll celebrate it the way the ancient pagans did—a celebration of the life-giving sun and its return from the Southern Hemisphere. May it continue to “bless” us with its energy.

Sol invictus
Sol Invictus

Merry Winter Solstice, and many happy returns of the day!!

**Editor’s Question** Which parts of Andy’s sermon do you think a pastor could give on Christmas day and still keep his job?

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Bio: Andy,’ a former Southern Baptist Minister, is currently a Pastor in the United Church of Christ. He plans to retire in the church, despite his rejection of metaphysical speculation (God, salvation, heaven, etc.). His life has been an evolution from traditional theism, to non-theism (via Tillich and Spong), to agnosticism (via linguistic philosophy), to ‘incipient atheism’ (via secular humanism). He holds a PhD in Biblical Studies from a major American university.

>>>>>>>>>Photo Credits: “Giotto – Scrovegni – -18- – Adoration of the Magi” by Giotto – http://www.scienceblogs.de/astrodicticum-simplex/2008/12/der-stern-von-bethlehem.php. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Giotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-18-_-_Adoration_of_the_Magi.jpg

“Diogenes looking for a man – attributed to JHW Tischbein” by Attributed to Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein – Nagel Auktionen. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Diogenes_looking_for_a_man_-_attributed_to_JHW_Tischbein.jpg

“Disc Sol BM GR1899.12-1.2” by Unknown – Jastrow (2007). Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Disc_Sol_BM_GR1899.12-1.2.jpg#/media/File:Disc_Sol_BM_GR1899.12-1.2.jpg

>>>>>>>>>Photo Credits:


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  • alwayspuzzled

    The only UCC church with which I am familiar has little interest in creed. They are an inclusive and activist bunch.
    Some of the congregation, who tend to be well educated, would probably think that Andy’s sermon was great theatre of the absurd, while at the same time containing an ecological message to which they would be very receptive.
    Others would probably worry that a poor fellow so stressed by something as irrelevant as creed was losing his perspective. They would immediately form a committee to raise funds to pay for a counselor, a Buddhist seminar, or any other centering activity of Andy’s choice.

  • For the churches I came out of, the answer is easy: none of it 😉 . The most one could suggest is that Christ was intended to save/restore all creation, not just humanity, and selfishness on behalf of our species is no more holy than selfishness on behalf of one individual.

    The depressing part is that such a message would still face significant opposition. They might crack open Genesis or Revelation and bloviate about multiplying, subduing, reigning, sweeping away the old Earth for a shiny new model. Without a discernible hint of inner conflict, they’d spend countless hours enjoying and praising the outdoors, and then say just as loudly that pollution and conservation aren’t worth the slightest thought.

  • Andy

    I realize that I am quite ‘lucky’ to be in my current church, which willfully pitches its canopy over the broadest possible landscape–from atheists to conservatives. We are ‘wildly’ diverse. I have shared with my congregation most of what I have written for this column, and have received abundant affirmation. I could only wish that other atheists in the pulpit might find a church like this one.

  • Andy

    Had to laugh at the last sentence! Thanks.
    Ironically, I have a member of my congregation who would claim Buddhism as his intellectual home. As I wrote in response to ‘Gideon’, I have a rather unique congregation. We all rally around philanthropic initiatives, and have ‘little interest in creed’, as you mention. Or as I like to say, we’re more interested in ‘saving Jesus from the church’!

  • mason

    Well done Andy! My favorite part was the look at the guiding star and the incineration of the baby Jesus hypothetical and planet Earth. Is your situation, the envy of hundreds of TCP members still caught in the pulpit, a complete anomaly in UCC churches?

  • Andy

    I’m not sure Mason. I can only judge by the other few I have served, where I would never have shared such a sermon! There are a lot of variables in play when it comes to how far a minister can go with his/her congregation. In the UCC, a lot depends on which of the four antecedent bodies the church is from–Congregational, Christian, Evangelical or Reformed. Location would be a second variable–urban vs. rural; North vs. Dixie, etc. Pastoral temperament would be a third. I know of pastors whose style is abrasive, and therefore would not succeed, regardless of the message. Length of tenure is a fourth; I’ve been at this congregation long enough to have gained the valuable trust that is necessary to be more honest about my thoughts.
    I don’t wear my theology–or actually, my lack of theology–on my sleeve. Maybe it’s a psychological flaw. I have never felt the need ‘to go all the way’ with sharing my unbelief. I’m just happy doing good things for those in need and being a voice for the under-served of our community. It is enough to be able to share my unbelief with this on-line community and a few select individuals in my congregation. Beyond that, I truly love biblical humor, which has the ability to further erode the believability of metaphysics. Yes indeed–that star that fried our savior!!
    Thanks for your comment Mason. I’ve never been asked your question, so it allowed me to think about why I am happy where I am, despite my unbelief, and why many others might not be. That’s the longer answer.
    The shorter answer is: yes, I and my church may be something of an anomaly!!!!! Thanks again 🙂

  • mason

    thank you Andy… your answer sure elucidates just how complex and sensitive these situations are

  • Linda_LaScola

    Andy — I’m glad Mason’s question helped you think this through, too. And I hope other pastors can find themselves in a similar tolerable, or even comfortable position. I also hope Church heirarchies make it more acceptable for clergy to just be straight with each other and with their congregations.