Luke 2. 8-14
We believe not in a secondComing, but in the First.
The wait – our wait – began four Sundays ago, on the first one of Advent. And if you remember, it began with a bang:
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, [said the prophet,]
so that the mountains would quake at your presence …
That was the first reading for the day. The third reading, from Mark’s gospel, was just as dramatic …
In those days, after that suffering, [Jesus said,]
the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
The gospel of the Lord! It was all about that so-called secondComing. It swept us off our feet and carried us away! And we loved it! We loved it all! It made our hearts pound and our blood boil! It made us feel that we were a part of something! Something grand! Something glorious! The sky rolling up like an old window blind! Every mountain, every island removed from its place! It gives us goosebumps!
“We believe,” said a website I looked at, this week! “We believe in the Second Coming of Christ. His return from heaven will be personal, visible, and glorious; a blessed hope for which we should constantly watch and pray.” It went on to speak of rapture and millennium, of the resurrection and reward. ”No one knows the day or the hour.” But those words of warning didn’t interfere with the description. Especially of the Lake of Fire and punishment. Eternal. Everlasting. Everyone, it seems, knows of those! Meanwhile, the few, the proud, live happily, ever after.
You’ve seen it all before. You’ve heard it. You’ve read about it. On radios and from pulpits. On television and in the movies. On bumper stickers and billboards. “The end is near!” “In case of rapture!” “Repent and believe!” I guess, as Americans, it’s a part of all of us! A part of our religious DNA! Believing in a second coming of Christ. Breathtaking! Brutal! And spectacular! It’s more than we could hope for! Everything we could imagine!
Now. I want you to do something. Sit back. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath, relax, and listen. What do you hear? The sound of traffic? The clock ticking? Your own breathing? Those are the sounds of Christmas! What you’re hearing … what you’re seeing … what you’re feeling and smelling and tasting … is Christmas! Nothing extraördinary! Nothing supernatural! If it wasn’t for the carols, the decorations, we, probably, wouldn’t even notice! Tonight, there’s none of the things that fascinate and mesmerize! There are no floods! No earthquakes! No whirlwinds! No everlasting infernos! Only the glow of candles! The flicker of a fire! No outer darkness! No tears! No gnashing of teeth! Only the first breaths of a new born baby! Wrapped in bands of cloth! Lying in a manger!
Look around! Listen! Carefully! Closely! Where’s the devil in all of this? Where’s Antichrist? Armageddon? Last judgement! None of that’s here! And there’s a reason … it doesn’t belong here! You see, we don’t believe in a secondComing. We believe in the First! In the one! In the only! This – all this – is what we believe in! We believe in Christmas! In the life! In the beginnings! In creation! But most of all, we believe in a god who loves us! Willingly! Wantingly! Wishingly! With all god’s heart! With all god’s strength! With all god’s being! Loves not just a few … or some … or many … or most … But loves all of us! Every! Single! One!
That’s why so many people celebrate this moment. Christmas doesn’t belong just to the church. It belongs to creation, to the cosmos, as well! Does everyone celebrating belong to the church? No! Is everyone a Christian? No, again! But they don’t have to be! There’s something catholic, something universal, about this night! About the fire! About the stars! Something that lifts us all up out of the shadows! To see visions! To dream dreams!
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake
the sun darkened, the moon not giving its light,
stars falling, and the powers in the heavens shaken …
That’s not Christmas! That’s not what’s going on, right here … right now ….
This night is the shepherds … living in the fields … keeping watch … by night …. They weren’t getting ready … or preparing … Truth is, they, probably, weren’t even looking for it! But the message found them! In the fields … Among the sheep … In the darkness … and pointed them to Bethlehem … to the stable … to the manger … And when they went, they didn’t find a lion, but a lamb. They found a baby … wrapped in bands of cloth … lying in a manger … And there, they found peace! There, they found love! There, they found love! Love waiting just for them! They found the gift only this night brings! They found the gift everyone has found, ever since! And it’s all, pretty, simple!
We don’t believe in a secondComing of Christ. We believe in the first coming! We believe in Christmas! And when we sit back, take a breath, and relax … we can see that gift all around us! See it! And hear it! And feel it! It’s not the magic … or the miracle … or the mystery … It’s in the humanness! It’s in the humbleness! It’s in the love! For god so loved – so loves – that god gives Jesus … For Jesus so loved – so loves – that Jesus gives us … And the sign we’re given, this evening, isn’t one of power, of might. Instead, it’s a sign of weakness, a sign of humility.
This night isn’t about armies. It’s not about warriors. The sign, says the angel, will be the baby! The baby lying in the manger! The little lord asleep on the hay! And that is what – who – we believe in! Christ came to save the world … Christ came to change the world … by loving it! Loving the loveless! Loving the unlovable! That doesn’t happen from a palace, but in a stable! That doesn’t happen on a throne, but from a cross! My friends, we aren’t here, this night, for a secondComing. We’re here because of the first! We’re here because of Christmas! We don’t believe Jesus will one day return. We believe he never, ever went away!