I suppose there is no better time, except perhaps Holy Week, to confess a sense of inadequacy in regards matters of faith. I have been feeling . . . well, let's just say I've been battling a sense of my own ultimate unworthiness in the face of the Gospel story. One hears the Good News, and it seems impossible the simple message of salvation - a free gift, to those loved beyond measure - is really meant for one such as I know myself to be. Not that I'm a horrible person. Just . . . faced with the reality of the whole thing, I have just felt myself without a plea, without a single leg upon which to stand.
I confessed to Lisa, before worship this morning, an overwhelming sense of my own unworthiness, of being beyond redemption. She cried for me, as I cried for myself, and she promised to pray that I would understand, anew, the promise of redemption that has been, is, and will be mine.
Then, in worship, I was overwhelmed with the presence of the Son, through the Spirit, for the sake of the Glory of the Father. The whole story seemed to unfold in my head and heart and I believed, in a new way, that this story was for me, too. I felt called forward to see the baby, offered a chance to hold him by his parents who smiled and insisted. The tiny hands, the marvelous baby-weight in my arms. . . Such joy.
On the north wall of the worship space at Cornerstone hangs a cross. Like all Protestant Churches, it is empty, signifying both its centrality and that this instrument of death is not the end of the Jesus story. As we sang Christmas carols, after having taken communion, I could see first, the tiny baby, then the man, hanging there, smiling down through the blood and tears. Then, the cross was empty and I could hear, from an empty tomb, the laughter that is the true final word of the story. The baby who sleeps on a bed of straw, wrapped in rags to stay warm is the man tortured and murdered by an Empire who does not want to hear a word of freedom, of salvation. The New is the biggest threat to all Empires, and Jesus was nothing if not the first real new thing to come to the world. Our capitalist orgy is as much about removing the threat implicit in the Christmas story as it is a celebration of the birth.
The story, in its fullness, doesn't really begin with a remembrance, an anamnesis of that long-ago night in Bethlehem. It began on the first day of creation, because it is the story of God's prodigal, never-ending love, an obstinate refusal to take our no as the final answer. Even if that means substituting his yes for our no. We are caught up in the great adventure, the challenge God poses for us - do we recognize and celebrate that magnanimous grace that is ours in the babe of Bethlehem or do we refuse, perhaps even laugh it off as a fable, a myth, a story for gullible ignoramuses too purblind to accept the reality of its falseness?
Today, I received the best gift anyone could ever give me. In a new way, not for the first time, and I know not for the last, I received assurance that my name - yes, mine - is called by the babe in the stable to come forward and kneel. I received the blessing of seeing that babe look down on all of us with love born in pain, and forgive us. I received the blessing of the Divine laughter that is the first sound of Easter, the only real Christmas carol worth singing.
Merry Christmas to all of you, to each of you, and may the peace of Christ, the peace that passes all understanding, be with you.