The Episcopal Peace Fellowship
wishes you and yours a happy holy season.
This message is a gospel-based suggestion
for how you can find that happiness right now
-- in spite of everything.
It starts with knowing the story, the cast, and the location.
The Christmas story begins with time itself
when Love looked out upon her whole creation
and called it good.
In the beginning, Love blessed existence itself.
But the Bible’s story of Jesus’ birth unfolds in a world
where people take a less charitable view.
For starters, when the people of Nazareth looked at Mary,
through the cynical, judging eyes of the world,
they didn’t see the Blessed Virgin.
They saw an unwed mother.
They didn’t say Hail Mary full of grace.
They said less pleasant things.
The Gospel of Thomas suggests
Jesus was called the son of a harlot.
But when St. Luke looked at Mary t
through the non-violent eyes of faith,
he saw the Holy Virgin, the Theotokos,
the Mother of God.
People didn’t consider Joseph a leading citizen either.
He wasn’t a skilled craftsman like today’s carpenters.
He was more like a day laborer.
When grownup Jesus began teaching,
people threw his father in his face.
Is not this the son of the carpenter? they sneered.
But through the eyes of faith, Matthew saw Joseph as a saint,
who listened to his dream angel
and married a disgraced girl
who was in God’s eyes full of grace.
The Shepherds were a questionable lot too.
Their job made ritual purity impossible
and they were rumored to be larcenous.
Priests wouldn’t allow them in the Temple.
But Mary welcomed them into the stable.
The angels chose the shepherds to hear the first Gloria.
The wise men were not even Jewish.
They were Zoroastrian astrologers, foreign pagans.
But Matthew says they were the first to worship our Lord.
Galilee wasn’t the Holy Land in those days.
Being from Galilee was reason enough to reject Jesus.
Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Nathaniel scoffed.
Prophets do not come from Galilee, the Pharisees claimed.
But Matthew quoted an obscure passage from Isaiah,
Galilee of the Gentiles
The people living in darkness have seen a great light.
Matthew means God chose Galilee to be the home of our Savior
precisely because the world looked down on it.
Bethlehem then was an occupied city, as it is today.
The prophet Micah called it the least significant (town) in Judah,
but Matthew corrected Micah:
You Bethlehem are by no means the least of Judah
for out of you will come a . . . shepherd for my people . . .
The stable was not just an unhygienic birthplace.
It was ritually unclean, dishonorable, a mark of shame.
But St. Francis, through the eyes of faith, saw it as a shrine,
made holy by its very earthiness, its humility.
He built the first crèche as a holy object for us to venerate.
The Nativity happens whenever the rejected is embraced,
the one the village called vile names
is seen through faith as a holy virgin,
and a smelly stable is reverenced as a shrine.
Adam’s sin, the primal violence,
was to divide the world into good and evil.
The fundamental act of violence is dividing us
into in-groups and out-groups,
acceptable and unacceptable.
In that system, no one can ever be safe.
Even if we are in favor today, we may be cast aside tomorrow.
How do we live in such a world?
Judge others before they judge you.
But God doesn’t work that way.
In Christ’s incarnation as the illegitimate, stable-born child
of a poor couple from backwater Galilee,
God broke open the domination system
of in and out, admired and despised
God overthrew the established order
that keeps the oppressed down
and the privileged perpetually nervous.
As a young man, theologian Virgilio Elizondo.
attended pastorelas, miracle plays about saints.
He recalls, “. . . (T)he costumes . . . appeared very shabby.
I was . . . tempted to give the(m) . . . some money
so they could buy finer materials . . . .
Eventually I learned that . . . (miracle play costumes)
may be made only from discarded materials (because)
in the Incarnation the rejected of the world
are chosen and beautified.”
God has called not . . . . the powerful,
not the important of society,
but the insignificant, the weak, and the despised.
Jesus said, the stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
What the world rejects, God chooses as his own.
God chose Mary. God chose Galilee.
If God cherishes what the world scorns
how then do we regard ourselves and each other?
The world we live in is the world we see,
and the eyes of faith see a better world.
If we want to see the world as God sees it and call it good,
we befriend the outcast whether they are cast out
on grounds of race, class, religion, political opinions,
or legal status.
But we can’t extend grace to others
until we find grace in our own lives.
So, how’s your life this Christmas?
After the fires and hurricanes, the political turmoil,
and the racist brutality, during COVID,
are you having a Jennifer Lopez Most Wonderful Time
with parties for hosting, marshmallows for roasting,
and caroling out in the snow?
Well, neither did Jesus.
It’s the parts of our lives that don’t measure up
to worldly expectations that touch God’s heart.
It’s when life feels empty, God fills that emptiness with grace.
But who we are matters more than our circumstances.
So, what judgments are you laboring under?
Are you looking at yourself through the violent, cynical,
judging eyes of the world?
What is it we have been taught to hate about ourselves?
Are we the wrong height, the wrong weight, the wrong gender,
the wrong color?
Is it our voice, our mannerisms, our ineptitude at this or that?
Maybe some of these things are faults in the word’s eyes,
but not God’s.
Zephaniah says, God has torn up the judgements of the world.
God has ruled. To God, we are already a delight.
That’s the good news we call gospel.
God has ruled: we are the beloved -- just as we are.
Joy to the World isn’t just about what happened long, long ago.
It’s about what started long ago
but is still happening in you today.
At Christmas, we discover that any shame we carry
is the world’s judgment – not God’s.
As Paul said, If God is for us, who can be against us?
. . . If God declares us justified, who can condemn us?
So I invite you to repent. Repent of shame.
Dare to believe that God enjoys you just as you are.
You are the Christmas miracle happening right here, right now.
Then, repent of your judgements.
If we stop the violence against ourselves,
we’ll be free to let up on our violence
against everyone else.
When we root our self-worth In God’s love,
we can share that love with somebody else
– show some kindness to a stranger
– regardless of their race,
religion, gender identification, or yes, even their politics.
Brothers and sisters,
if we practice the Christian paradox
of accepting the unacceptable,
the night sky will lighten faintly in our East
and the Star of Bethlehem will rise in our souls.