Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Scott Wesley Borden, OHC
RCL - Christmas 1 - Sunday 28 December 2008
Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7
If you listen to ads for companies like Kodak and Hallmark, they will tell you that Christmas is a time for making memories... Of course what they really mean is that Christmas is a time for buying lots of their stuff to mark and store those memories.
Christmas is certainly a time for memories, of remembering - but that remembering is not limited to the sentimentality of cards and photos.
We remember friends and loved ones with gifts, we remember the poor and needy with love and charity, we remember joyful times past and painful times past. Most of all we remember the coming of Jesus - God among us - the Word in human flesh living among us.
I’m not quite enough of a Scrooge to say X-Boxes and greetings cards have no place in Christmas. But I do believe that a pile of stuff stuffed under a tree distorts our idea of what it means to give just as Kodak Moments distort what it means to remember.
We’ve developed a rather literal and linear concept of remembering. Perfect memory gets all the details in all the right spots with all the right implications. Fond memories - well for those we know we’re making little adjustments to reality... softening up the hard edges - but that’s OK... its still linear and literal.
Our literal, linear approach to memory isn’t the only way of remembering. Its certainly not the ancient way of remembering.
Remembering, in some sense, is the opposite of dismembering. It’s the putting together of things, people, times, events... Dismembering is destructive; Remembering is constructive, even creative.
Our modern literal and linear approach to remembering greatly inhibits the constructive and creative possibilities. A literal and linear approach to remembering is no more helpful or healthy than a literal and linear approach to scripture.
The Celtic peoples had a wonderfully rich way of remembering that involved creativity and artistry. The Celts, for example, remember dialogues between people like St Patrick and Jesus. Its almost laughable from a literal-linear perspective. Patrick and Jesus lived centuries apart and in very different parts of the globe. But surely Patrick was, in some sense, in dialogue with Jesus. So why not remember it?
The Gospels give us a bit of a push not to be too literal and linear in our remembering of the birth of Jesus. Matthew and Luke both tell the story - except they don’t tell the same story. In Matthew, Jesus is born at home. There is an astrological event - a star. And the mysterious Magi who come from a distant land bringing exotic gifts. In Luke Jesus is born on the road, as it were. Mary and Joseph are traveling. We have a stable and a manger and shepherds. Its quite common to have shepherds and kings gather around the manger. Our kings are making their way to the creche even at this moment. But in the literal, linear world, those Kings will never arrive that creche. The shepherds and wise men will never meet - any more than St Patrick and Jesus meet...
I think the Gospelers are giving us permission to remember the story as we need to, not to try to reconstruct it as ancient history.
Now, more than at any other time of year, we remember that Jesus, the Word of God, takes on human flesh and dwells with us. Its not a long past, locked-in-time, linear memory. Our encounter with God in human flesh is a real re-membering; a living relationship. And as we all know, relationships take work.
The sweet simplicity of Greeting Card spirituality and Kodak Moment memories will not support a rich and deep relationship - not with our loved ones, and certainly not with Emmanuel - God with us.
The Gospels are revolutionary - and remembering them sentimentally takes the revolution right out. Matthew and Luke begin their revolutionary talk at the moment of Jesus’ birth. We remember shepherds and wise men...
We need to remember that this little child at the center of it all could claim the same divine birthright as the emperor. This little child with no money and no power, exceeds the mightiest ruler of the most powerful empire on Earth. Remembering that faithfully and actively will inevitably put us in conflict with the social, industrial, political, and economic empires of our day.
But today we’re remembering John. John begins his revolution a little differently. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...” well that leaves me scratching my head a bit, but it doesn’t seem too revolutionary.
“He was in the world... yet the world knew him not.” Nothing revolutionary there - just a sad fact that is arguably as true now as it was 2000 years ago.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us... The law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus.” Well there is a revolution... a revolution of grace and truth rather than a revolution of power and might.
How do we remember this revolution - how do we put it together in our lives and our time?
That is the question at the center of being a follower of Jesus. How do we live out the Gospel? How do we honor our baptismal covenant? If we are looking for simple, easy to follow, step by step instructions, we better find another Gospel... and a different God.
A revolution of grace and truth... I find that I can’t remember grace without also remembering forgiveness. By God’s grace I am saved and by that grace I am led to God’s kingdom - not in some future way, but in a re-membering way. God’s grace re-members my life here and now. God’s grace teaches my heart to sing and releases me from fear, and allows me to see things I would otherwise be blind to, to borrow from a well loved hymn.
And I find that I can’t remember truth without remembering justice - because truth requires justice, while injustice requires lies. Just take a little time today to think about a few of the lies we tell in order to rationalize injustice.
The world in which God took on human flesh was a troubled world, a violent world. Jesus calls us to follow - that sounds nice until we remember that Jesus was executed by the state. Remembering the birth of Christ is a revolutionary and dangerous act.
We still live in a troubled world, a world filled with darkness, violence, deceit, and despair, but a Christmas built around remembering suffering and heartbreak is not going to be popular. “O Come All ye faithful. Suffer with the suffering. Bleed with the wounded. Cry with the brokenhearted”
A Christmas built around misery and strife is not true to the Gospel - the good news.
Jesus doesn’t call us to suffer. Jesus calls us to heal suffering. Jesus doesn’t call us to be afflicted. Jesus calls us to heal the afflicted; to protect the week; to visit the sick and the imprisoned. That is what Christmas is - the re-membering of our selves as the Body of Christ. The re-membering of this world with the grace and truth that come from our relationship with Jesus, the living God.