I am going to share with you an artifact from my past with you today. It is my Christmas gift to you. First, a little background is necessary.
My first son was born in 1976, 3 years after I graduated from Seminary. I was with his mother in the delivery room as he came out into the world. My first thought, as he began to cry, was what a miracle this was! He was cleaned up and placed into my arms. I looked at him and thought, “Anyone who doesn’t believe in God, should witness a birth!”
Several years later was taking a three- day class at a Pastor’s Seminar. My memory of the content of the class is cloudy, and I couldn’t tell you what the professor from a United Methodist seminaries said those three days. But a handout he gave us at the beginning turned on the lights of Christian Faith and Tradition for me and I never forgot what it said. Mainly because I kept a copy!
It was the transcript of the ending commentary of the legendary—to those of us at the time—TV news reporter and commentator, Harry Reasoner, at the end of the broadcast of CBS’s Sixty Minutes, on Sunday, December 23rd, 1979. THAT handout, or at least a copy of it, is the “artifact” I am going to read in a moment. I have made copies of it. You can pick up a copy as you leave by either entrance, if you wish. By the way, it really is an artifact. You will see from your copy that the handout was obviously transcribed using a typewriter and “printed” with a mimeograph!
Here's the transcript of Reasoner’s commentary.
For those of you, if any, reading this from the St. Mary’s sermon archive, you will hopefully find it included with the sermon in the archive.
As I said. The lights went on. Of course, I had been schooled in the key Christian doctrine of the Incarnation. We affirm it in the words of the Nicene Creed each Sunday. “I believe in one God...and in one Lord Jesus Christ...very God of very God,...being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made;...(Who) came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” However, all of that was still an abstraction to me, and I have never done well with abstractions.
But when I read Reasoners words, I connected them with holding my newborn son in my arms, and it came together: Once upon a time, God had made Himself vulnerable to His creatures, so vulnerable that He manifested Himself in a baby. He who created the universe and all that is in it, put Himself into the arms, and at the mercy, of flawed human creatures. I thought of holding my baby son and realized what an astounding thing had happened when one day in history, that Christians commemorate as Christmas, God came into our world as a baby! To use Reasoner’s words, “it was a dramatic shot to (my) heart!”
Harry Reasoner did not make this concept up. He was obviously grounded in the bedrock of Christian faith and Theology.
Classic, Orthodox, Historical Christianity, has always held, that the baby of Scripture named Jesus, WAS GOD—incarnate: en-fleshed: “Embodied” in human flesh and blood.
As the magnificent prologue to the Gospel of John, which is the Gospel reading for this morning, says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us”.
At this point it would be easy—or at least for me it would be easy—to wander off into the theological weeds and talk of how “the Son of God” is a different kind of “son” than any biological offspring of ours, and how “God’s Son” is different than “God the Son” and that would take us to the Trinity and . . . well, let’s not go there this Christmas morning. Let’s go back to the baby in Mary’s arms, who is also the Creator of All Things.
This baby of the Christmas story is a real baby. Helpless and vulnerable. And yet able to call attention to Himself as babies can, with howls of hunger or discomfort (“no crying he makes” is a fiction made up by a song writer). He needs to be kept warm and fed and dry and protected from the elements and from Herod by the efforts, both mundane and heroic, of Mary and Joseph. And yet they hold God.
Furthermore, the Baby represents a cosmic event that cannot be contained in a Bethlehem stable. NOT represents, but IS,
what C.S. Lewis called “The Grand Miracle,” when he wrote that “the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, which is uncreated, eternal, came into Nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing Nature up with Him.” In this baby is a full-bodied sign that God is about redeeming us, our world, our universe, from the bottom up.
Furthermore, if God could—and did—show up in our midst once upon a time as a baby laid in a manger, God can—and does—show up ANYWHERE! God showed up in the baby, in a minor country in the backwater of the Roman Empire, God the Jewish carpenter in Nazareth, God the teacher named Jesus, healing, telling stories and hanging out with people that aren’t approved by the powerful and the self-righteous, God the broken man tortured on a Roman cross, God the dead man now alive, fixing breakfast for his traumatized disciples.
And God shows up in people we know, in places that are familiar to us, in family, in friends, in co-workers, and strangers. In people we love, and in people we can’t stand.
He shows up in the bread and wine of the Mass, ordinary, mundane, pieces of Creation, that, nevertheless, hold the Creator.
He shows up in us. He shows up in you. Not always with our knowledge or permission!
And when He does, no matter what the time or circumstances, and when we recognize His presence, or point it out to another, it is Christmas.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!
To the Glory of God and in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary
St. Mary's is a parish of the Diocese of West Missouri, The Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion.