I know this is late, but it is the message I gave on Christmas morning December 25, 2011.
Isaiah 52:7-10: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
John 1:1; 14 “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
I saw a political cartoon this week that said “Occupy Christmas.” And then off to the one side it said “in your hearts.” And I thought at first, “ah, isn’t that nice…?” And then, I was thought, “wait, no, no, no!!!” “How could you Occupy something in your heart? You don’t occupy something like Christmas in your heart. That takes away the power not only of “occupy” but even more importantly of Christmas.” It undercuts whatever revolutionary power either of these have.
Christmas is the original revolution.
Now we might not know it much today, or what this means exactly, but the day the son of God was born to a young rural Jewish virgin, the day we now call Christmas, was a revolutionary day.
Now I don’t mean that it is revolutionary in that Macy’s just had an amazing 50% off sale this past Wednesday – if you could come in between 10 and 1pm.
I don’t mean that Christmas is revolutionary in that Black Friday this year saw more revenue income that it has in many recent years past.
I don’t even mean that Christmas is revolutionary because many of us will experience the euphoria of receiving or giving that secret gift we’ve been planning for all year.
Too often in our day the word revolution has been thrown around and misused.
Toothpaste is revolutionary if it combines baking-soda with fresh organic mint flavoring. A car is revolutionary if it has heated seats. A phone is revolutionary if it can take voice commands and talk back to you.
No Christmas is revolutionary in a different way.
Mary understood the nature of Christmas when she sang her song in Lk (while she is pregnant with Jesus):
“And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”
“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51–53 NRSV)
One theologian writes:
“Mary’s song (Lk 1) is not the language of sweet maidens, but of Macabees [who were Jewish revolutionaries]: it speaks of dethroning the mighty and exalting the lowly, of filling the hungry and sending the rich away empty. Mary’s praise to God is a revolutionary battle cry.”And “Whatever it is that God is about to do, it will be good news for the poor and bad news for the proud and the rich, it will be change, including changed economic and social relations.” (16)
Had God’s son been born to the King Herod, or the Roman Emperor we’d been having a completely different discussion. But no, God was born in and among the ordinary people, the people struggling to survive, the hurting and vulnerable. The outsiders and the “unholy.”
Christmas is revolutionary because God sides with those who are losing or have lost.
This is what is meant by the words “good news” or “the Gospel,” it is all-encompassing and holistic in scope.
For Mary, the announcement of Emmanuel is revolutionary because God has not only heard the cry of the voiceless but God has come physically showed up to respond. She understands the revolutionary nature of what is happening, probably better than anyone. She says that Jesus’ birth is something that will be both a for the vulnerable and against the powerful.
Now let’s go back to our image for a minute. The reason something like “Occupy Christmas” in our hearts misses the point is because it ignores how Mary understands what’s happening, but it also misses the physicality of what happened.
Christmas is revolutionary because God is born as physical reality in the form of a helpless little baby.
God reveals Godself as one who actually, physically shows up to the place where he is most needed.
This isn’t a God who simply hears us and says “I’ll pray for you,” he shows up on the scene to find out how he can help.
Now if Mary had given birth to a ghost, if Jesus’ life was simply a story, if his death was a hoax or the resurrection was only a resurrection of spirit and not, as the Christian tradition has proclaimed for 2000 years, a physical body, then maybe we could “occupy Christmas in our hearts.”
But as it stands, Christianity and Christmas is about God showing up. The power is in the physical or material reality of what happened (and through extension of the church, what continues to happen today).
It is about way more than simply a “spiritual” thing, it is about a new revolution where Jesus challenges the very religious, cultural, political, economic and social values of the day.
And his teachings will be passed down to followers who will read them and say “oh, aren’t those nice words we can keep in our hearts, luckily we don’t have to actually do them…?” NO, of course not!
This idea of “Christmas as revolution” is a nuisance for Christians who are content to keep Christianity as simply a heart thing.
But if this had been the case, there would be, among many things, no Quaker history. For our own tradition is a tradition of Christianity taking the message of Jesus and acting upon it in the physical world, not just occupying it in our hearts. Quakers show up where they were needed, and defend the vulnerable and oppressed among them, because we believe that’s what Jesus did.
Christmas reminds us that God is not a God of ideas or words, but of concrete action. God did not remain in the clouds writing heavenly decrees, instead he simply showed up.
Today, one of the ways that God physically shows up to help people is when the church shows up to help people. Christmas happens when we as individuals and as a community practice the witness of presence and help others who need our help.
Even wrapped up in the idea of “Christmas Spirit” is not simply holding something spiritually in your heart, but about people coming together being family, showing love, helping one another.
But remember that really catchy song at the beginning of the old school version of Dr. Seuss’s “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas?”
Welcome, Christmas (Reprise)
Christmas day will always be
Just so long as we have we
Bring your light
While we stand
Heart to heart
And hand in hand
Or consider the deeply theological movie “Elf” with Will Farrell, Santa’s Sleigh only flies by people having “Christmas Spirit.” That means that they not only believe, but they actually are out helping one another. [Buddy the elf’s dad turns around (loses his job to help find his son, they help Santa, etc]
But see, for the church we are to have that kind of “Christmas Spirit” every day. Not the Santa part, but the part where we are responsive to others. Where love and justice and peace represent everything we do, guiding us to stand alongside others.
This is why the gospel of John says:
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
In Isaiah it says:
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation…”
It doesn’t say, how beautiful is the spirit of peace. No, it says the actual “feet” of peace, the real flesh and blood feet that work, and struggle, and put their own “feet on the lines” to help bring about peace.
And this changes everything. The good news, and salvation, must also have something to do with flesh and blood, and redeeming culture and society, and challenging the powers of oppression, as much as it is something that affects us personally. That is if the actual feet of peace are blessed, if the Word actually shows up as Flesh.
Christmas is revolutionary because the Word became flesh, Jesus’ feet were the feet that announced and practiced peace.
Christmas tells us that God cares for and deeply loves the whole of creation because God became a part of the creation.
It tells us that God literally and physically shows up when needed.
It tells us that it is easy to forget just how powerful and revolutionary this story is that we tell.
It tells us that we are to have hope and believe that the world can actually be changed for the better and that the reign of God starts with the birth of a child.
Let’s not just keep this story in our hearts, let’s have it affect our whole bodies.
Then I believe we too can be revolutionaries just as the baby’s birth whom we celebrate today.
Welcome to our world.