Tuesday, December 27, 2005

When God Comes Into the World

The Christmas story is really a story of surprises. We forget that in our four-week season of Advent, during which we “prepare” for Jesus’ birth. We have lost the shock that Mary must have felt when the angel first appeared to her. It is hard to recapture the absolutely unexpected sight of hosts of angels appearing to shepherds in a night sky.

It’s all become a bit too familiar to us, thanks to Hallmark cards, nativity plays, and television dramatizations.

I have tried to open myself to be surprised anew this Christmas season. And in reading the texts, hearing the carols, and preparing myself through Advent, I was surprised all over again by the simple truth that God came into the world …

And God didn’t simply enter once into the world, but continues to enter, interact, and change this world, thanks to the men and women whom now walk in God’s light. God keeps on coming, over and over into the world.

In my sermon on Christmas, I noted three things that happen when God enters the world. First, the rich and powerful become nervous. Take the story of the wise men, for example. When the magi enter Jerusalem, who is the most disturbed by their search? King Herod, of course. Or listen to Mary at Elizabeth’s place. One of the verses of her impromptu song includes the line, “God drags strong rulers from their thrones and puts humble people in places of power/God gives the hungry good things to eat, and sends the rich away with nothing.”

The rich and powerful have good reason to be nervous … for the birth of Jesus announces to the world that God’s kingdom has taken effect now, and that all rulers, powers, kings and presidents must now bow before God.

Second, simple things become the most important things. Note the choice of Bethlehem as the birthplace of the divine, the manger as the cradle of the newborn king, the unmarried peasant girl as the mother of the child … all simple, humble, and very ordinary things.

God just happens to be like that. God always chooses the least to be favored, those who are on bottom to be put on top, those who are humble to be put in positions of influence. That’s just the way God happens to work.

I noted to the crowd at John Wesley UMC that they mustn’t worry or fret that their worship services take place in a dusty, dirty little corner of an industrial auto park. “This simple little place can become the most important room in all of the Republic of Cameroon,” I told them, “if … if … you commit yourselves whole-heartedly to following Jesus Christ.”

Third, when God comes into the world, a new way of life becomes possible. Jesus was born into a world full of wars, oppression, slavery, poverty, and corruption – a world that looks remarkably like ours.

But Jesus came into the world so that these troubles might come to an end. He presents us with the possibility of revolutionizing our world, of changing things. The world can start to resemble the kingdom of God when we follow Jesus as disciples, when we allow the Holy Spirit to work through and within us.

After all, Jesus made it possible for us to live a new life. That’s what he was talking about in John 3, when he uttered those over-used, over-preached words, “You must be born again.”

When you and I are born again, God comes anew into the world and things start to happen. Surprising things.