the First Sunday of Christmas

Hebrews 2. 10-18
Community is a gift that comes from beyond ourselves.

All I can say is that it’s been one helluva year … in every sense of the word. An outer darkness, gnashing of teeth kind of thing. As a congregation, it’s been pretty good. As a country, not so much. In fact, we’ve been going at it tooth and nail, talon and claw, for quite a while. We stand back hurling accusations, pointing fingers, shaking fists! Glass houses aside, we just let the stones fly. All or nothing. Red or blue. Us or them. There’s nothing in between, any more. Partisan, the pundits call it. Polarized. Tribal. And the past week, for me, has been one of the most peaceful in a long, long time.

I wish I could say it was because of my faith in Jesus. It wasn’t. Truth is, I was just too busy – too busy and too tired – to care. Too busy and too tired to pay much attention to all the hoopla. Services to get ready for. Sermons to write. Bulletins to run off. PowerPoints to set up. Typical Christmas stuff. And it was good! It was very good! No time to read a newspaper. No energy to watch tv, to listen to the radio. And I didn’t miss it, at all! And apparently, I wasn’t the only one.

Wednesday morning, when I turned on the news, again, they were all talking about the same thing. About how good it was to get away, even for just a little while. They talked about Christmas. They discussed Jesus. The sermon on the mount. The golden rule. They, even, talked about loving god! Loving others! Even loving our enemies! And I just drank my coffee and shook my head. They were ready to kindle a fire and sing Kumbaya together! And the whole time, I was thinking … it doesn’t work that way! It just doesn’t work that way! And they went on and on with their wishful thinking, with their good intentions. And next week, next month, next year, when nothing really changed, when everything’s still the same, they’ll wonder why. They’ll wonder why.

You see, nothing changes, everything stays the same, because we just can’t do it! Change, that is. It’s not a choice. It’s not a decision. We don’t wake up, one morning, and resolve to turn the other cheek or go the extra mile or do unto others. We’d like to think it works that way. It doesn’t. More likely is that we’ll wake up in the morning thinking and feeling and doing the same things we thought, felt, and were doing the night before. More than likely, we’ll wonder what THEIR problem is! Why THEY’re still so obstinate, so stubborn! Why THEY won’t, why THEY can’t, change!

We forget, in politics – at least, on a good day, at a good moment – we reach a compromise. In religion – at least, the kind that’s popular here in the U.S. – compromise is heresy! It’s selling out! Politics – real politics, successful politics – is about looking for middle ground, looking for common ground. Something both extremes can live with. Politics – when rightly practiced – sees compromise as a virtue. In popular religion, compromise is a vice, a defect, an imperfection.

It’s poplar religion in politics – not politics itself – that divides, that separates. It’s not partisanship that’s to blame. It’s denominationalism! It’s not a matter of conservative versus progressive. It’s saved versus damned! Sheep versus goats! Chaff versus grain! The mission of contemporary “politics” is evangelism! The goal is wrath and condemnation! It’s not simply winning elections. It’s totally destroying, utterly annihilating the “other.” What THEY think. What THEY feel. What THEY say. What THEY do. Popular religion – at least, here in the good, old U.S. of A. – is conformity, obedience, submission. But that’s just not the way faith works. Not real, honest-to-god believing.

Faith, like Christmas, always begins with god! Not the angels! Not the shepherds! It begins with god loving us! God coming to us! God taking us as god’s own! God saying, “I am yours! You are mine!” It’s god accepting us, just as we are! And then us accepting each other, the exact same way! Faith is, before anything else, being loved; and then, it’s going and doing the same! Not because we want to! Not because we have to! But simply because that’s how love works! It isn’t something that comes from within us. It’s something that must come from outside us.

But according to popular religion … well … we go on making swords out of plowshares and spears from pruning hooks. Instead of following our better angels, we’re led by our worse demons. And things go on, pretty much, the way they’ve always gone on. It’s only love – someone else’s love for us – that changes anything! That changes anyone! Before we love, we have to be loved!

God doesn’t keep track of the naughty and the nice. God doesn’t decide who’s worth it and who isn’t. God does only one thing: God loves! God loves us all! With all of god’s heart! With all of god’s mind! With all god’s strength! With all god’s being! And that love makes us different! It recreates us! It makes us new! So that we can, so that we will, love just like Jesus! Blessed, they call it! Blessed to be a blessing! The New Commandment! It’s not about burning people at the stake because they’re no like us! It’s not about casting the chaff into the fire! Into the unquenchable fire! It’s carrying a cross! It’s suffering! It’s dying! It’s rising to do it all over, again!

We aren’t here, simply, to say our prayers … or to read our bibles … or to sing our songs … We’re here – first and foremost – to be loved! And then – then and only then – we’re sent to love everyone and everything around us! Just like Jesus! Just like god! And an eye-for-an-eye? A tooth-for-a-tooth? Well, it just doesn’t work that way. It has never worked that way.

So, 2019 has been a helluva year! A helluva year in every sense! And truth is, 2020, probably, won’t be any different. Of course, we can hope. Divided. Conflicted. It’s something – as god’s people … something – as the church … we know a lot about. This city if full of churches who have broken off of other churches who have broken off of other churches. And there are hundreds – if not thousands – who are no longer a part because of it. And we know that wishful thinking can’t do much of anything to change it. Community isn’t the result of a common enemy. And peace doesn’t come from a common cause. The only thing that brings people together and keeps them that way … is love!

That’s the only thing that changes, the only thing that transforms. Someone turning the other cheek … to us! Someone going the extra mile … for us! Someone, finally, doing unto us, what we should have been doing unto them, all along! The only thing that works is loving! Loving just like Jesus loved! Loving just like Jesus loves! To the cross and beyond! To the cross and back! My friends, it’s not Christmas that makes all things new! It’s goodFriday! It’s greatFriday! It’s the love!