The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s009g10 Christmass 2 3/1/2010
'the Word became flesh' John 1.14
I notice that we celebrate the incarnation of our Lord at his birth, not at his conception. We celebrate his conception on the feast of the annunciation, when it is assumed the child was conceived when Mary said to the angel: 'Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.' Lk 2.38. So we celebrate God becoming at one with all of humanity, not when God became one with Mary. Mary could not keep the divine all to herself, and neither can we ever keep God to ourselves.
This perception leads me to realise that we need to be careful when we talk about Jesus being the eternal Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary. It can lead us to logical imponderables, like where was the eternal Son of God the day before Mary gave birth? Or when the baby Jesus 'lay down his sweet head', as we sang this morning? Or where was the eternal Son of God the day before the Annunciation? Such things are so easily argued about, a bit like some people argue over the interpretation of the book of Revelation.
But one thing can't be argued over, and that is what Jesus was after he was born. Jesus associated with ordinary people. The religious people wanted to keep Jesus all to themselves, but stubbornly he continued to associate with others, entirely unworthy people, like prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners. Of course even the conception of Jesus reflects this, for neither Mary or Joseph were of 'the movers and shakers' of either the religious or secular hierarchy.
This is why we celebrate Christmass with such joy. Indeed, of course, some church people wonder why others celebrate Christmass at all they want to keep it to themselves.
True joy comes not when God does something for me, but when I realise that God includes all.
After many years of specifically making sure that I use non-gender specific language, it is salutary to read theological texts from the last century, where otherwise noted theologians use male pronouns throughout their writings. It stands out 'like a sore thumb'. And I note that St John also uses non-gender specific language, when he says 'the Word became flesh'. All people, both male and female, are included in the incarnation. Indeed it includes all of sentient creation, as the Buddhists remind us. This is a cause of real rejoicing, except for those who would prefer it not to be so.
This is but one instance of how the institutional church has omitted to reflect her own 'core values'. Actually there are lots of ways the church has failed to reflect her own 'core values' and we can become so accustomed to the traditions of the church, that we take these divergences as gospel.
Some people make fun of politically correct language. I am grateful to the Wikipedia article for the information on Warren Mitchell (himself in fact Jewish) who was cast as Alf Garnett a reactionary, mean-spirited, selfish, bigoted, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, anti-Semite in the long running television series 'In Sickness and in Health'. I suspect that this spoof did more to 'move mountains' of prejudice than a multitude of sermons. The article states that Alf Garnett was the direct inspiration for Archie Bunker in the American sitcom 'All in the Family' which in turn was inspiration for Eric Cartman in 'South Park'. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alf_Garnett) So I guess that there are still many mountains of prejudice to move even still. But at least prejudice is being shown up for what it really is.
One of the things about God is that the divine keeps mixing and matching different people together. Abraham is sent from his father's home to live amongst strangers and to inherit a land vastly different from what he would ordinarily inherit from his earthly father. The ancient people of God are pilgrims on this earth. Colonialism in the more recent past brought about clashes of culture, to the detriment of many, but also for the mutual enrichment for those who care to look for it.
It would be 'easy' to live in a world where no one who formed the but of Alf Garnett's, Archie Bunker's and Eric Cartman's tirades existed. But the reality is that if this was in fact so, the Alfs, Archies and Erics of this world would find some others to complain about. We are given a choice and the choice is to look for ways of mutual enrichment, or not. Perhaps the Alfs, Archies and Erics of this world are happy, but everyone around them have good evidence that they aren't. Any happiness they may possibly feel they keep to themselves.
God mixes up humanity because we have something to contribute to others, and others have something to contribute to us. We have something to contribute to the indigenous people of Australia and the indigenous people of Australia have something to contribute to us.
I am reminded of a story retold on AnglicansOnline that they first heard decades previously from a Baptist minister in the States:
I was walking across a bridge one day, and I came across a man standing on the rail, about to jump. I said 'Stop! don't do it!'
'Why not?' he said.
I said, 'Well, there's so much to live for!'
He said, 'Like what?'
I said, 'Well... are you religious or atheist?'
He said, 'I am quite religious.'
I said, 'Me too! Are you a Christian?'
He said, 'I am.'
I said, 'Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?'
He said, 'Protestant.'
I said, 'Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?'
He said, 'Baptist!'
I said, 'What a happy coincidence. So am I. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?'
He said, 'Baptist Church of God!'
I said, 'Amen! Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?'
He said, 'Reformed Baptist Church of God!'
I said, 'Amen and Amen! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?'
He said, 'Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915!'
I said, 'Die, Godless heretic!' and pushed him off the rail.
You see the church has been complicit in keeping people segregated from others, the Anglican no less than others. I might have finished my sermon here, but saying the evening office for the day after Christmass Day, the lessons were from Isaiah 28 and Titus 1, and they seemed particularly relevant:
'Truly, with stammering lip
and with alien tongue
he will speak to this people,
to whom he has said,
'This is rest;
give rest to the weary;
and this is repose';
yet they would not hear.
Therefore the word of the Lord will be to them,
'Precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
line upon line, line upon line,
here a little, there a little';
in order that they may go, and fall backwards,
and be broken, and snared, and taken.' (Isaiah 28.11-13)
There are also many rebellious people, idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision; they must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for sordid gain what it is not right to teach. .. To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure. Their very minds and consciences are corrupted. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. (Titus 1.10-11,15-16)
In the incarnation God has come to all flesh, not just to all 'christians', 'anglicans', people of faith, whatever. In the incarnation, God has come equally to all people, including women and gay persons, the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners.
We only imitate the Alfs, Archies and Erics of this world if we even begin to think likewise, and if we do so we only deserve the derision of thinking individuals, and I note that it is precisely derision that others often have for the church because she has failed to proclaim her core values.
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