Dec25SunA sermon for Christmas Eve (Isaiah 26: 16-19) December 25, 2022 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
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- Pr. Sebastian
There was a meme that was circulating a week or two ago that I saw, and it went more or less like this:
There are five types of Christmas songs:
The first type is a song that basically goes: “Look! snow!”
The second type is about “I want stuff!”
The third type: “Santa’s horny”
The fourth type: “Let’s all get schnackered”
“The birth of Christ has ushered in a new age and no one shall taste eternal death.”
And I think this funny list is great
because there is such a difference between that fifth type,
the song you’d expect to sing at church, and all the other topics in most Christmas songs.
If you’re here tonight, perhaps it’s because you grasp that Christmas is about more than that
“it’s nice to play in snow”,
And that there might be a reason we won’t be singing “Santa Baby”
at our service.
The birth of this child born to a poor teenage mother of uncertain paternity 2000 years ago is much deeper and profound than the topic of your average jingle.
The nativity has cosmic, eternal consequences that will change the universe and beyond forever, which makes it quite hard to understand.
I mean, to sing with conviction “Hark the Herald Angels sing …glory to the newborn king” …this is a lofty promise of an event… that ushers in a new age for humanity.
The Bible texts we heard tonight are a little different than the ones we’re used to hearing on Christmas Eve,
and they have a little more of that life-changing, eternity-bending quality.
They focus on birth, life and life beyond,
And help frame that what happened in Bethlehem was no ordinary delivery,
But one that would change the universe!
Our first reading from Isaiah reveals an image of a
“Pregnant woman [as] the people who have not been able to deliver themselves or to have someone to deliver them— rather than [birth] a deliverer, they have only produced wind.” (Wilda C. Gafney)
Up until Jesus’ birth, there were obviously millions of pregnancies, yet none produced a Messiah, none resulted in a deliverer…
all pregnancies yielded merely an empty breeze!
The Messiah, the annointed, the redeemer,
had been foretold by the prophets,
but the long-awaited birth of the Saviour
seemed like it would never happen…
The imagery is quite vivid and colourful here in Isaiah,
and contrasts with the very glib and simple description in Luke:
(Isaiah 26 v16):
…they pressed out a whispered prayer…v17 like an expectant mother with child writhes-in labor and cries out in her pangs when her birthing time is near.
This image of the heavily pregnant woman who is in the throes of labour,
Set in contrast with the laboring virgin in the Gospel is an interesting one.
How much did Mary suffer in labor?
Probably a lot, as it was her first.
We don’t know, as her labour is minimized and glossed over (Gafney)
For all we know in the brief description,
the baby just popped out nice and neat and easy,
Kind of like in the movies where it takes about 10 seconds.
But by focussing on the act of giving birth,
we focus on a woman’s actions,
I think it’s important with all this focus on Jesus,
not to forget about Mary (to give her some credit in the moment).
She is the single active human character in the story;
Mary, the woman is the one getting things done to prepare for the first Christmas.
The men, they’re not doing so much:
Joseph went along with Mary but he really doesn’t do anything,
Jesus doesn’t do anything in the story.
But the woman actually does something!
She gives birth!
Mary writhes-in labor and cries out in her pangs.
And later she preserves these things and ponders them in her heart.
But what is there really to ponder…
well the fact that this is no ordinary birth,
but one with eternal repercussions.
I mean most of the birth story is pretty normal:
A poor couple goes on a trip and they can’t find a hotel room,
and the girl gives birth under not-ideal circumstances,
Everything is pretty ordinary,
(and could happen to 90% of the global population),
But how do we tell that this is special, and one-of-a-kind?
Well, there are Angels…of course,
The shepherds hear the unbelievable good news message from angels,
That today is Born the Savior, an exceptional Messiah, the Sovereign God.
This unprecedented birth is not because Jesus is extra-cute,
or has dimples or could be the next Gerber baby,
No it’s like (we heard sung) in
“What child is this:”
Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you.
The good news of the extraordinary birth has to do with the fact that Jesus will be brutally executed?
That’s not so cute, and isn't something to ooh and aah about!
The birth is special because of the baby’s death.
And yes, Christmas without keeping Good Friday and Easter in mind is absurd.
At worst such a Christmas is the meaningless, sentimental garbage of the “eat, drink and be merry” variety,
Or at best perhaps, taking note that poor people have babies too in often less than sanitary conditions.
Christ is more than Christmas,
That is the good news of the cosmic messengers.
The nativity is twinned with the resurrection,
As Christmas looks forward to Easter.
There is hope for those at the end of the line,
Because the stable is not the end of the story.
This story which is about birth and death and life thereafter,
Where the birth occurs in deep distress,
Whether in the context of wars, or colonial occupation,
It is a narrative that resonates with the distress of today,
Whether it is the global upheaval of COVID-19 which has upended our societies for the past 2 years,
The lack of affordable housing which has rendered “no room in the inn” a reality for a segment of our Canadian population,
or inflation which particularly hits the poor the hardest in their ability to put food on the table this Christmas,
While generally it is women who suffer the most in these crises,
they suffer the birth pangs and the consequences,
largely glossed over and obscured by the patriarchy.
And yet in the midst of this is that Christmas-Easter hope, that
(1 Thess.) the dead will rise with “promise guaranteed by Jesus’ own resurrection.”
Your dead shall live!…
Awake and sing for joy, you who dwell in the dust! (v19)
Salvation is come to all, in the least likely of places,
thanks to a young girl who gave birth,
And the story of what happened after Mary’s labour is,
as they say: to be continued.