Sunday, December 25, 2011

The human face of the Divine

Text: Luke 2:1-20 (birth in a stable; shepherds and angels; Mary ponders)

Advent is over. Christmas is here. And so we listen again to the mysterious and joy-filled story of the birth of Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem.

Why do we love this story so much, I wonder? It tells of God's love come to earth. It doesn't come with great fanfare or terrible signs. God's Love comes as a baby born to a poor young girl in a humble stable.

In this baby -- Jesus the Christ Child -- we see the face of God. Like us, Jesus is born helpless and dependent. And like us, Jesus is filled with God's infinite potential.

Our human potential -- which is what marks us all as God's children -- flourishes in community. We grow in family, with neighbours, and in the wider society. Without care, love, and language, our minds would not reach their potential. But in the right conditions, all of us can participate in this world of wonders and experience the peace, love and joy promised to us at Christmas . . .

This Fall, on the CBC's The Nature of Things, I watched a story that intrigued me. It profiled a man from Montreal who was born blind. And it showed how well he was able to navigate the world with just the clicks from his cane. It even showed him skating around a rink in Montreal as the reporter interviewed him. And he seemed to navigate every turn and obstacle.

When researchers examined this man's brain with an MRI, they found that he was processing sound in the part of the brain that most of us use for visual processing. His brain had developed in a way similar to that of a bat. If this man had become blind as an adult, his brain would not have had the plasticity to shift sound processing to another part of his brain. But because he had been encouraged by his family to walk and even skate as a blind child, the potential of that part of his brain became a reality.

It is the same with all of us, I believe. We all begin life like Jesus as a helpless child. And then in the wonder and magic of caring families, in churches, in communities like this, and in the wider world, our minds and hearts grow and flourish.

Of course, our society not only provides us with caring conditions in which to grow. It also contains pain, conflict, sickness, and problems of all kinds. So even though we are all children of God born with unlimited potential, we cannot live up to this full potential without God's help.

And so we hear again the story that God came to earth as a child. We hear again that as Jesus of Nazareth he grew to be a leader. And that as God's son, he was arrested and executed on a cross in love and solidarity with us all. And so tonight as in any worship service, we remember how Jesus -- both as a baby born in a stable, and as an adult killed on a cross -- shows us a path to new life beyond the difficulties and pain of our society.

In the Christ Child, we see God's love in its most tender and gentle form. God does not overwhelm us with force. God does not compel us to worship him. Instead, God in the form of the Christ Child tends to overwhelm us with beauty and helplessness.

Remember times when you looked into the face of a newborn baby. Who has not been overwhelmed by love and joy -- and perhaps also fear -- in such moments? In a newborn child, we see all the wonderful if fragile potential of life and love.

For us gathered here tonight who have lived long and sometimes painful lives, God still calls to us as a baby. It is a call both to love God and to be loved by God. And so we hear the stories again and we sing the carols again. And we remember that God is with us. Emmanuel has come again. Light has come again. Love continues to lead us through life and then surely home to God.

Tonight in southern Saskatchewan as Christmas 2011 arrives, let us sense again how silently, how silently a wondrous gift is given. It is the gift of salvation, and it is born in us today. The gift is the birth of the Christ Child in hearts turned towards love on this night as on any night. It is the coming of God as a child, a child who is both a helpless infant and a saving King. It is the mystery, beauty and power of the Christmas story. And it is available to each and every one of us tonight in this little town.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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