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Sermon: Who Are You?

December 23, 2010

Luke 2:1-20

Once upon a time a king fell in love with a maid.  It’s an old theme, on how love overcomes all barriers of class and of race and of nationality. But for all its beauty, the king didn’t see the matter easily resolved.  Racking his mind and heart was the question: How to declare his love?  Unable to answer it, he summons to his palace all the wise people of his kingdom and put the question to them.  As one, they responded: Sire, nothing could be easier.  Your majesty has but to appear in all your glory before the humble abode of the maid and instantly she will fall at your feet and be yours.

But it was precisely that thought which so troubled the king.  In return for his love, he wanted hers, not fear that would lead to her submission.  He wanted her glorification.  Not his.  What a dilemma when to declare your love means the end of your beloved.  When not to declare your love means the end of love.  Night after night the king paced the floor of his palace pondering, until at last he saw love’s truth: Freedom for the beloved demands equality with the beloved.  So late one night, long after his courtiers and counselors had returned to their chambers, the king stole out of a side door of the palace and appeared before the humble abode of the maid dressed in the garb of a servant.

He comes to us as one of us.  (Soren Kierkegaard, “The God as Teacher and Savior,” in Philosophical Fragments [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985], 23-36; from Homiletics Online.)

It is a difficult, scary thing to declare your love.  To love truly means to reveal yourself, to expose yourself completely to another.  I don’t know about any of you, but there are parts of myself that I would prefer not ever be seen by anyone.  To love is to trust one’s own self, that fragile sense of who I am and who I hope to become, with another.  It means to risk rejection and hurt and betrayal.  It is a difficult, scary thing to declare your love.

But if I really want to love—and to be loved in return—I must risk letting someone else see behind the façade I have created, the shave and haircut, the neatly pressed clothes, the smile that masks what I am really thinking and feeling.  Without self-revelation, freely sharing of who I really am, love is not complete.

Love came down at Christmas.  God shared God’s own self with us.  Christmas is God’s gift of self to us, and offering to us.  God opened up to that risk of rejection, hurt and betrayal.  That is the incarnation, God-made-flesh so that we can see and understand who God is, because God knows that unless we really know who God is, we cannot truly love God or be loved in return by the divine.

When we see Jesus—baby, adult and risen Christ—we see God.  When we know Jesus, we know what is important to God.  When we love Jesus, we love God.  And so it becomes very important for us to pay attention not only to the person of Jesus—his words and actions—but also to the way in which God shares Jesus with us.  There are an infinite number of ways God could have shared God’s self with us, but in Christmas, God chose one particular way to say to us, “This is who I am.”

God might have chosen to ride into Washington, D.C. at the head of a column of tanks, like a May Day parade in Moscow, to proclaim, “I am here!  Fear me!”  God might have chosen to ride across the sky in a blazing chariot, throwing gold coins down to the masses, saying, “I can give you everything you have ever dreamed of if only you worship me.”  God might even have simply rained pixie dust down from the heavens that turned us into zombies who crave only to love and obey God.  Or maybe an advertisement during the Super Bowl, or Happy Meal toys, or even an iPhone app.

Whatever options were available to God to declare to the world “I love you; this is who I am,” God chose a baby born to a dishonored young woman in a stable in a small corner of an occupied territory of the Roman Empire.  The first witnesses to this divine revelation were shepherds who were living out in the fields with their animals.  The only flashy part of the whole story was the choir of heavenly voices who sang out to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace!”  And poor Mary didn’t even get to hear the music while she recovered from giving birth to a child she had never asked for in the first place.  That’s not the way the Madison Avenue crowd would draw up a publicity campaign.

This is God telling us who God is.  God is more interested in simplicity and humility than glamorous celebrity.  God is more interested in the power of weakness and gentleness than the false power of force and violence.  God is more interested in loving us than in possessing us.  God might have chosen to spellbind us with divine glory, but God instead chose to become vulnerable and to give us the gift of God’s own self, to do with as we please—to accept or reject, to honor or abuse, to love or neglect.

The king cannot come to us and appear in all his glory so that we would instantly fall at his feet.  If the king were to declare his love in that way, it would mean the end of our free selves.  That isn’t love.  It’s slavery.  And if the king were never to declare his love at all, it would mean the end of love.  So the king chose to reveal himself and his love in the only way that allows us true freedom to love the king back in return.  The king comes to us as the most vulnerable of servants, a newborn infant born in a stable to a poor family.  The king comes to us as one of us.

Christmas is God’s loving gift of self-revelation.  Christmas tells us who God is, and on this Christmas we remember the story of how love came down to us because it reminds us how we are to live in this world.  We remember that gentleness and generosity are more important than grasping and grabbing for whatever we can get.  We remember that giving ourselves, letting ourselves be known, is the only way we can truly love one another.  We remember that we are created for peace and harmony.  We remember that we are created for love.  When we truly know who God is, we can truly know who we—children of God—are meant to be.

My Christmas wish for you is that you will experience the true love, peace and harmony that God shared with us on that first Christmas, that you will share yourself with the people you love most and with the strangers in your midst, that you will feel the joy of being known and loved by the King of kings, the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, Lord of all Creation.

Merry Christmas, and may the peace of God enfold you this night!

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