Sermon by Rev. Brian Combs, 12/22/2019
Escapism includes distraction by otherworldly means. A break from the banality of domestic life; a reprieve from the unpleasant realities of the daily scrum; a time out from the persistent feelings that overwhelm. If I could just be relieved of the routine, get out of here for a while, all would be temporarily well.
Perhaps that’s why Advent, for both the secular and the sacred, is the preferred season of religious escapism. There’s a sleigh ride through the winter wonderland to the other side of the unknown. The comatose of consumerism to numb the senses in the name of giving. Even a glut of worship services on Dec. 24th to sidetrack attention.
Embracing fantasy and fiction, the longing for Christmas is often a longing to leave. But not for Luke’s Gospel. You’ll notice in his account what’s absent: no star high in the East to lift our gaze to the celestial skies. No foreign magi to provoke our curiosity about their exotic homelands. Not even a glittery treasure box to covet that which we don’t have.
With diversions pushed aside, Luke leaves us with what’s most essential. Encountering the story at its most basic, what’s the good news in today’s text?
Luke 2:15-20 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
God choosing trespassing shepherds, ancient vagrants to be trusted messengers.
The 1st Christmas begins with a holy family where all is not well, much like the rest of our lives.
Mary’s steadfastness to allow the Savior to be born in her and through her.
Thich Nhat Hanh was born in 1926 in Central Vietnam. At 16, he entered the Buddhist monastery and gave his life over to disciplines of the Spirit. There he learned about controlling the mind, centering the breath and the practice of mindful presence. Wanting to share his wisdom, he began writing and speaking. When the war-ravaged his native country and decimated his native people, he raised his voice in peaceful protest. But both north and south Vietnam forced him into exile where he lived for the next four decades. Invited to the United States, Hanh was introduced to Thomas Merton and Martin Luther King, Jr. Martin was so touched by this quiet monk and his commitment to non-violence that he nominated him for the Noble Peace Prize. Later, after authoring dozens of books and studying comparative religion, he wrote, arguably, his seminal work, “Living Buddha, Living Christ.” Although writing as a Zen master, he penned one of the most astute insights about Christianity saying, referring to Jesus, “The miracle is not walking on water or walking on air… [the miracle] is simply walking on the earth.”
No Gospel is concerned with what’s underfoot more than Luke. There is a noticeable lack of ascendant divinity. The humanity of his narrative is lived closed to the ground where the Good Samaritan stems the bleeding crouched in the ditch, Martha is hunched over in the kitchen loading the dishwasher, the lost coin is found in the dirt beneath the floorboards, the Prodigal Son pays his way into the basement brothel, and Zacchaeus deserts his lofty perch atop the Sycamore tree.
From the very beginning- lowly shepherds of ill repute, lowly backwater Bethlehem, lowly peasant parents, lowly birthing barn out back, lowly animal trough for a crib, a lowly child born homeless- the 3rd Gospel believes that Good News is lowly news. For Luke, God doesn’t want to escape the human condition, God wants to take up residence in it.
On this Dec. 25th, or any other day of life, if you’re still waiting for Christmas to arrive, resist the urge to drift off into some far away oblivion or distract yourself from the present moment. Instead, take heart that what you’re longing for isn’t out there in something but right here in someone who has abandoned heaven to come into our midst wearing diapers.
After the Shepherds arrived in Bethlehem- unclenched their staffs, cinched up their tunics and got down on all fours- they must have decided that while others will call him Lord of Lords and King of the Jews, Prince of Peace and Jesus the Christ, the Word made Flesh, there’s only one name above all others: Immanuel, God with us.