God’s Life in our Hands – Christmas 2017
For those of you who are parents, do you remember the scary feeling of the first time you held your new-born baby in your arms? To tenderly hold that precious little bundle of life, to look at that scrunched up face, to carefully cradle that head so it doesn’t flop, to feel the beating of that tiny heart, is a momentous event for a new mom or dad. I remember the terror of taking our oldest daughter home from the hospital. The nurses and hospital staff were letting us take this little child home with us? They were entrusting us with her? Did they have any idea how little we knew, how inadequate we felt? None of the Lamaze classes or books we read or directions we received from the nurses adequately prepared me for the terror of this responsibility. This tiny life was in our hands. We were responsible. We could hardly figure out how to properly strap her into the car seat. Holding her, bathing her for the first time, feeding her, changing her diaper, calming her when she cried: being a parent was a momentous responsibility. It was exciting and joyous and terrifying all at once. Of course, like all parents, we slowly figured it out and grew into the role. Imagine how inadequate to the task Mary and Joseph felt, not only to care for their new-born baby boy, but to be responsible for the very life of God born into this world.
In a field near Bethlehem, bathed in radiant, heavenly light, still ringing with the glory of the angels song, shepherds were given a sign. You will find a new-born baby boy, wrapped in rags and lying in the soft straw of an animal’s feeding trough. The sign was as common as the shepherds themselves. The sign was human. It was humble. It was poor, small, not grand or in any way pretentious. Notice Luke’s reversal: earth is not looking to heaven for a sign, but heaven looks to earth. The extraordinary – angels, bursting forth in supernatural glory in the night sky – points to the ordinary, the earthly, the poor and humble and says, “see God is among you.”
But not only Mary and Joseph were responsible for this child. We also are responsible for Jesus’ earthly life. Tonight we celebrate the birth of our Lord, Emmanuel. The very name means ‘God with us’. God is born into our world. God places his precious life in our hands. It was an awesome responsibility for Mary and Joseph. It is no less an awesome responsibility for you and me.
We take God’s life in our hands when we reach out to receive a bit of bread and a dip or a sip of wine. We take God’s life in our hands when we open the Bible and read it. We take God’s life in our hands when we pray. We take God’s life in our hands when we reach out to help another person. We take God’s life in our hands when we share his love. We take God’s life in our hands when we repent and turn away from our sins and turn towards God’s directions. We take God’s life in our hands when we sing God’s praises in worship. We take God’s life in our hands when we ask him to live in our hearts. We take God’s life in our hands when we attempt to do his work. Taking God’s life in our hands is an awesome responsibility. What if we get it wrong? What if we fail? What if we’re inadequate to the task? Like taking care of a newborn baby we will grow in the responsibility. We will gain in confidence. It’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK if we fail.
The thing is, while God places his life in our hands, his life is bigger than we are. At the same time we take his life in our hands we should also be praying for him to take our lives into his keeping. We won’t be able to achieve anything with his life until we entrust ourselves to his love. I’m sure that God loves it when we ask his help and direction. The thing God is always willing for his life, is for that life to be made human, to be made concrete and real. The heavenly Spirit fills, motivates and guides us in God’s desired outcome of making his love and presence felt in human endeavor and human life.
We tend to look to heaven for help and hope. We ask God for protection, for healing, for strength. We ask God to defeat our enemies, to solve our most inscrutable problems, to help those we love, to act in the midst of this turbulent world. And so we lob our prayers up to heaven. On Christmas, with the birth of Jesus, God lobs his prayer back to us. Take my Son, take my life in human form, and be responsible for it. Nurture it. Feed it. Give it life and strength and hope. Hold it tenderly in your hands. Let it grow in wisdom and power. Let it grow in favor with men and women everywhere. Let it influence you and let it influence your world. God’s prayer to us – to the world – is to let his life move us and change us and transform the world.
We tend to want and expect God’s life to be super-human, to be all powerful, all knowing, invincible. We expect God’s life to be glorious, otherworldly, transcendent. We tend to picture that life in images of kingly splendor and power and might. But Jesus preaches a kingdom that has nothing to do with power or wealth or military might, but has everything to do with servanthood, sacrifice and suffering. Indeed he acted as though that kingdom was already becoming an earthly reality. He spent his time eating and associating with people on the margins of society – the sick, the poor, the outcast, the prostitute, the tax collector – while rebuking the religious, the elite, the insiders. He challenged the powers of sin and death by taking them on directly, all the way to the cross. He lived a very powerful life, but still a very human life and died a fully human and agonizing death. He did not show us a superhero who would solve the problems of the world or battle the forces of evil with superhuman might. He showed us in human form what God’s life looks like. He revealed that life. He embodied it.
What God did in Jesus was to show us God’s life in human form. And he gave that life to us. He entrusted that life – the life of God’s Kingdom – to us. Like a parent we are invited to nurture his life and let it grow. Like a child we’re invited to explore that life and grow in it ourselves. As a disciple of Jesus we’re invited to follow the way he led and live in it. His life does not take us out of this world into some spiritual plane. His life takes us more deeply into this world in love and service especially to those most in need. His life doesn’t make us invulnerable or imbue us with superpowers; it makes us human, fully human, as Jesus showed us true humanity.
In the last verse of the Christmas Carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem we pray, “O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.” As Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph, so we pray that his life will be born anew in us. That life will impose many challenges in us. It will demand our care and nurture. It will invite our love. It will fill us with joy and sorrow. It is both a burden and a wonderful gift. Like Mary and Joseph, let us love and nurture that embodied life of God. We don’t need to feel ready or adequate to the awesome responsibility of caring for the human life of God. We simply need to love it as our own.