In thousands of churches, faith communities and mission outposts across the world people are telling the Christmas story tonight. They are telling a story of a baby born in a stable in a tiny province of ancient Israel thousands of years ago. Talk about a story with some staying power.
Unfortunately, they might be telling it wrong…hows that for a gutsy new preacher lady? What I mean is, most of us remember a conglomeration of the different tellings of this story. In Luke Mary and Joseph start in Galilee and go to Bethlehem where Jesus is born in a stable. In Matthews telling they live in Bethlehem, and Jesus is born at home. In Matthew we have wisemen, unnumbered mind you, but Luke tells us of Kings. So which one is right? People want facts, not fables. Right?
But what if there is an alternative? What if theres another way to look at these precious stories of when God made contact in a powerful and unique way? What if the bigger question is not in the factuality of their historical details, but what they mean? Do you want facts, or do you want truth?
Some of you may take no issue with the miraculous details of the virgin birth, guiding stars, and angels. Amen. The richness of this story and the omnipotence of God is not lost on you. But for those of you who struggle with belief and faith over what seems to be scientific impossibility. Its okay. There is still truth and meaning and hope in this story for you too.
See, here’s the thing about faith. It requires a leap, it requires their to be some holes in it, it requires there to be some doubt that we have to overcome. If there weren’t any doubt it wouldn’t be faith at all. It would just be tangible certain-ness. We’d have no choice in the matter.
But I don’t believe that is what God wants for us. I think God wants pure, vulnerable, unadulterated hope and love. A thing that cannot be coerced. A thing that requires not just our minds but our hearts. A thing for which I can think of no better representation than a dependent, helpless, homeless child born to an unwed teen in the barn out back.
That’s the thing about this gospel message. Its so unexpected, countercultural, vulnerable. Why would an all powerful God come as a baby…unless it was to show us what love is really like.
Look, I get it. Our culture tells us to hide our weakness. Our culture tells us to walk it off, pull ourselves up by our boot straps, tough it out, that if you work hard enough, try hard enough, push hard enough, you can have it all…the gospel flies in the face of that. Become a baby. It’s not safe, its the riskiest thing you can do. Dependent, vulnerable, helpless…become that.
We know the truth deep inside ourselves. Why do we sing of the hero who turns back instead of saving herself? Why do we praise the one who puts himself second or third and others first? Why do we watch those click bait videos of the homeless person who is willing to share their lunch, while package laden mall shoppers aren’t. It’s because we know the truth. It’s because deep in our souls it is written on our hearts by our creator that its not about being strong, or having it all or saving yourself. Its about the risk of vulnerability. The risk of love. The risk of counting on someone besides me and beside me. It’s about sacrifice and how it can be painful to shed things but that love is worth it, and you are worth it.
What else could be the embodiment of this kind of God…a baby…of course.