“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”
After all that the children of Israel have endured at the hands of the Assyrians, at the hands of the Babylonians, a promise is given to them by the prophet Isaiah. A new sign will come, a new beginning will happen. A time of peace, a time of righteousness, a time of justice.
It is tempting to think this passage is a prediction of the birth of Jesus; it’s not. Isaiah was not looking into a crystal ball predicting the future when he wrote those words. He was expressing the hope of generations upon generations before him, generations upon generations yet to come. He was expressing the hope that we continue to hold to this very day. A hope for a time of peace, a time of righteousness, a time when justice — fairness, equity for all — will prevail.
The prophet also says “The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light.” And how well that is echoed in the Prologue to the Gospel of St. John which Russell read so beautifully earlier tonight. We heard the words: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. God has given humanity, once and for all, the ultimate gift: the promise that darkness shall never prevail against the light.
But how does this amazing act of God, this amazing gift from God happen? Think of the many ways it could have happened. God could have sent us a lengthy treatise on theology — answering all our questions, explaining how everything in the universe works, explaining what the ultimate destiny of all creation is.
God could have sent a mighty ruler. That would certainly be the human temptation: send a ruler to rule over the greatest empire of the time and have that ruler impose the divine will on all his subjects.
Or God could have called for the final reckoning then and there. Having given humanity millenia to get things right and seeing that that was not happening and probably wouldn’t be happening, God could have brought the whole thing to an end.
But that’s not what God chose to do.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.
Instead, God chose to cast the Divine lot with humanity. To become one of us. To show us that God had not given up on us yet — in fact will never give up on us, ever, no matter what. Do we fall short? Yes of course we do. Do we disappoint God? Yes of course we do. Does God still forgive us? Yes of course God does. Does God love us unconditionally? Yes. Yes and yes — now and for all time.
God’s ultimate gift to humanity was not to come in power and great glory, not to come to judge, not to come to lord it over us. God did not choose to come to the very seat of human power, for that matter, but chose instead to enter into our human condition in a small backwater town in a small country occupied by the empire. Chose to appear first to a young peasant girl and her craftsman fiancee, chose to be made known to shepherds who occupied just about the lowest rung of the class system of their time. Chose next to reveal the divine glory to foreigners, visitors from a distant land to the east.
Was there ever one so humbly born who, in fact, was the king of king and lord of lords? Was there ever one who broke all human expectations of what a messiah should be than that baby born this night, born to humble people, born among animals in a stable?
Does this gift of God’s to us this night, this gift of God’s abiding promise to us and presence with us, does this humble form not say everything about how God loves us and what God expects of us? That in lowliness and humility lies real power, that the trappings of human power are but vanity, that what endures is unconditional love, renewed forgiveness, and constancy, not human power and might.
Remember Isaiah’s vision — a promise of a world set right, when:
“all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.”?
When Christ was born in that stable in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, that did not happen. The boots of the tramping warriors and the garments rolled in blood were not instantaneously burned as fuel for the fire — instead they continued in his time as they continue today. In fact, three days after Christmas we observe one of the saddest days in the Christian calendar, the “Feast” of the Holy Innocents, marking the day when King Herod, in his desire to seek out and destroy the holy child, ordered the slaughter of all children under two years old in and around Bethlehem — and the slaughter of innocents continues to this day, from wars and pogroms, ethnic cleansings and holocaust, conquerings and bloodlust. Christ was born and human evil was not automatically, miraculously, eradicated.
Instead, Christ was born into the human condition to share in suffering the pain from whatever evil we inflict on each other, as well as in the joy of whatever goodness we make happen. There were those who, as his earthly ministry unfolded, were disappointed that he was not the messiah they had expected. He did not overthrow the oppression of the Roman Empire, did not lead the ultimate revolt that would lead his country back into freedom. He instead suffered with those who suffered, and was in fact ultimately put to death by that very same empire.
I wonder why that is? Could it be that Christ’s power comes not from being a supernatural superhero, but rather a companion is life’s journey no matter where it takes us? Could it be that he was consistent with the way God always has and always will deal with us — not by imposing the divine will but rather by giving us choices? Could it be that Christ’s power comes from his words that inspire us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God? Inspire us, encourage us, and then hope that we’ll choose the right course that leads to blessings and not curses, but remaining unflaggingly faithful to us no matter what path we choose?
Could it be that God’s greatest gift to us is actually the gift of free choice, coupled with God’s assurance, through the incarnate Jesus Christ, that no matter what choice we make we will never be abandoned?
For unto us a child is born. Unto us a son is given. And the he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. As well as friend, constant companion and lover of our souls — not matter what. AMEN.