Wicker Park Lutheran Church
Rev. Jason Glombicki
December 24, 2017
At this time of the year, we often go out of our way to spend time with important people. We pause to give thanks and celebrate. Yet, in our human attempts to be everything to everyone we often over promise and under deliver. We say that we’ll attend the work party and don’t; we pledge to not talk about politics until we do; and we make grandiose promises only to let others down. As humans, we have a tendency say more than we act on. After all, it’s easy to note that our thoughts and prayers are with the victims in Las Vegas or Sutherland Spring. We are quick to grieve for the devastation in Puerto Rico and Texas only to forget their continued struggle. When we see climate change we promise to take our consumption seriously, until we fall into the consumerism of Christmas. Yet, the true Christmas story is one where words and actions are united.
So, let me tell you the real Christmas story. It’s a story that begins in a relatively peaceful land. This peace was a gift from its immortal ruler – fear. There was fear of the government, fear of an outside attack, fear of the religious leaders, and fear of torture and crucifixion. Nevertheless, there was some semblance of peace. On the first night Jesus took a gasping breath, the people were adjusting to a new tax law. You see, according to Luke’s gospel, Joseph and a very pregnant teen, named Mary, were forced to walk over 100 miles so that each region could be appropriately taxed. Because so many people flocked to Bethlehem, this little town was running out of space. And, we know that when space is limited and the demand is great, the cost goes up – it’s basic economics. Anyway, Mary and Joseph were poor and they needed to find someplace fast, Mary was oh so ready to give birth to a child…a bastard child. So, this unwed couple found a feeding trough, called a manger, and had no choice but to make it work. While we don’t know the details about the actual birth of Jesus, chances are that it was fairly normal. Mary’s joints were sore, she howled without an epidural, and she was exhausted after an average 14-hour birth. When Jesus finally made contact with the air, they gave him a little pat on the bum and he gasped his first human breath.
So far, there is a lot in this story to connect with in 21st century Wicker Park. We know how military might and fear can give a veil of peace. We know what it feels like to have a new tax law imposed on us. We have been in overcrowded places. We have traveled to places far from home. In fact, if you think about it, Jesus’s world looks a lot like ours.
Anyway, back to the story, so, as they dried the fluids off Jesus’s pruned body, Mary and Joseph wanted to remember this moment because he was their first born – you know how new parents get. No camera? No problem, just cue the angels to round up the shepherds. So, into that birthing chamber walked some disgusting shepherds having been living outside for weeks or more. These shepherds took mental pictures, heard the story about the journey from Nazareth, and were told that a Savior had been born. And, that is the true Christmas story.
While this story is important and it has helped shape Christianity, it is also completely unnecessary for religion. In no other major religion does a god or gods take on a human body to communicate their message. Instead, other religions use prophets and messengers to speak on behalf of God. Christianity is the only major religion who worships a God who took words and paired them with a human form. A God who became incarnate and claimed the title Immanuel, which means “God with us.” But here’s the thing, that title is more than a statement; rather, Immanuel is a transformational action.
You see, showing up matters to our God. Our God practices what is preached. Our God recognizes that actions speak louder than words. Our God knows that you can pretend to care, but you cannot pretend to be there. And so, God took on human form, during a time remarkably similar to our own, to communicate that God is with us today, tomorrow, and forever.
Like any parent knows, when a baby arrives everything changes. Nothing will stay the same. So too, in the weeks ahead we’re going to see the world change. We’ll have the opportunity to explore why this particular baby matters. We’ll discover why the incarnation is earth-shattering and means absolutely everything. We’ll learn about God’s passion for justice and liberation. We’ll discover the use of non-violence to bring a different kind of peace. We’ll be captivated by an ideology of love and grace. We’ll come to realize that this baby’s life has the power to transform the world and our own lives. That is why each Sunday we gather here in bodily form to explore and to be transformed. We gather to be reminded of Immanuel.
And tonight, we begin that journey as we gather for a holy meal. Here, we encounter Immanuel in one another. And then together we will embody that old adage that “it is better to give than to receive.” Because, our God will send us share God’s “good news of great joy for all people” in both word and deed. Amen.