The joy of Israel is increased,
for a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
So declares the prophet Isaiah looking ahead to a time where the people of God will be liberated; set free from the violence and exploitation of neighbouring empires. Christians draw from the imagery of this passage, reading it forward into the coming of Christ, who as the angels declare is the Messiah: the anointed one, sent by God into a people longing for freedom, into a creation groaning for redemption, into humanity yearning for good news. Angels burst into the sky to proclaim to the shepherds that something dramatically and drastically new has happened, something so strange and surprising and impossible: a child has been born and is lying in a feeding trough and about him the angels sing: glory to God and peace on earth!
This child, whose parents are part of a colonised people, who will soon need to flee into a foreign land to escape the murderous rage of a regional tyrant, this child is the promised messiah, the long-awaited saviour who will proclaim liberation of the captives and good news to the poor, he is the light and life of the world who in his humility will conquer the power of Sin and Death and inaugurate the peaceable kingdom of God. This child… really? It seems far-fetched… but then, as Auden would write: nothing that is possible can save us.
The Christmas story – as with the whole story of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection – is so strange, surprising, and impossible. Jesus was born into obscurity and precarity, lived a life of conflict and controversy and did not even have a place to lay his head. Jesus so incensed the political and religious leaders of his day that they conspired to execute him, nailed him to a cross between two thieves while his closest followers betrayed and denied and fled. And yet this very Jesus is the one in whom Christians believe the fullness of God was pleased to dwell? This is the true light of true light, true God of true God? This is the one who has come to save the day!?! It really is such a scandalous and strange claim. And yet when the grace of Christ and the comfort of the Holy Spirit breaks over our lives like waves upon the shore we experience what good news, what unparalleled hope these waters provide. The strangeness need not be overcome or have its edges smoothed, but we enter the choppy waters with wonderment, for it is the strangeness that speaks to the potency. Because when I consider the world and its woes, a little bit of tinkering and gentle reform that fits within the realm of human experience and expectation seems highly inadequate. Nothing that is possible can save us.
And so, despite the strangeness of all those autobiographical details, it is this Jesus that reminds us that we are created by love and for love, and that nothing and no one can take that away from us. It is this Jesus that reminds us that the fullness of God did not scorn the fullness of humanity – but was born amidst those whose lives were marked by precarity and oppression and announced good news directly to them! It is Jesus who, in calling us his siblings, reminds us that we deserve dignity and freedom. And what’s more, this Jesus calls us into a life of meaning and purpose.
Jesus commissions us as ambassadors of reconciliation, he empowers us to live as heralds of good news, and calls us to be workers of healing and wholeness, justice and restoration. In Jesus we come to know that our “purpose” and “worth” is found in the quiet, meaningful, and dignified work of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God.
The impossibly good news of Christmas is that God does not abandon humanity in its struggle and desperation. For Jesus of Nazareth, true light from true light, true God from true God, is counted among us on that great census of all who lived, so that we should never be alone, but always find his name beside ours. God with us. Amen.
Please enjoy a collection of sermons preached in recent months at the Kirk. If you have questions about the sermons, or attending a service reach out using the Contact Page.