Christmas Eve A – December 24, 2010
Isaiah 9:1-6, Psalm 96:1-3, 11-13, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-14
I have been waiting a long time to tell you an incredible secret! Writers have been working on this one for years and it is sure to change the way we think about Christmas. Mary had twins. One was named Jesus. He was the talented and charismatic one. The other one was called Christ. He was the sly and scholarly one. Don’t be too startled. For a whole millennium Christians have believed Jesus the anointed one was both human and divine. But what happens when you separate the twin meaning, just for tonight?
Philip Pullman  tells the story about Jesus traveling the countryside teaching ethics. Some of it is common sense, some of it is down right confusing. Meanwhile, his brother Christ, prompted by a stranger who knows all about the twins, stands on the fringes of the crowds taking notes.
The idea was for Christ to clarify what his brother Jesus was doing so that we could understand it better. The secret agenda of the stranger, however, was to turn the simple teachings of Jesus into dogmatic ones dictated by an organized religion.  Scripture scholar Raymond Brown wrote, “All gospel material has been colored by the faith and experience of the church of the first century.”  How is this ancient story of the birth of Jesus Christ colored by our faith and experience today?
In the book, Christ watched over his brother Jesus from a distance. Many are on the fringe of our Church looking in at us, watching what we say and do? Ross Douthat wrote recently, “depending on the angle you take, Christianity is either … the strongest religion in the country or a waning and increasingly archaic faith.”  These feelings may be true for many Americans — even some of us here tonight. Recent studies tell us that we are a spiritually restless country; that people are questioning the value of organized religions and the moral authority of their leaders; we have become a nation of seekers looking for answers. Still … something drew us to this church this evening; something that may be beyond our telling.
We gather here because of the story of the birth of a helpless child who grew up to find his own identity and to speak a prickly message of peace and justice. He never intended to start a new religion. Nowhere do we read Jesus gave up his Jewish identity. Apart from the romantic and commercial appeal of this holy day, we realize that somewhere beneath the music and lights lies a message of hope. It is a message that also challenges us to keep the stories of our faith alive and, as the second reading tonight suggests, to live justly, peacefully and devoutly in this age.
Christianity is a religion that requires not only faith but good works. The meaning of Christmas is found in the entire life of Jesus Christ not just his infancy. Once we get beyond the shepherds, the kings, the angels; the mystery and magic of this season, what’s left for us to tell others about Jesus? How about these attributes? His charism and his intelligence; his kindness and his audacity; his defeats and his victories; his evasiveness and his personal touch.
My two year old great niece, Charlotte, decided the other day to rearrange the statues in the nativity set. She turned the angels, the shepherds, the kings and even Joseph and Mary around on the table so they would face a photo of Charlotte’s parents. The poor little Christ child was moved outside the group! Apparently little Charlotte thinks the whole crowd should be adoring her parents. But, what about the Christ child? She placed him on the fringe looking in on the rest of us to see just how much we are adoring one another. Maybe my great niece is on to something called — the true meaning of Christmas.
1 Pullman, Philip. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. (London: Canongate) 2010
2 Hichens, Christopher. “In the Name of the Father, the Sons…” in the New York Times, July 11, 2010, 12. A review of Pullman’s book.
3 Brown, Raymond. An Adult Christ at Christmas. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 1978, 3
4 Douthat, Ross. “A Tough Season for Believers” in the New York Times, 12/20/10, page A29