Mass at Night:
December 24-25, 2019, Christmas
Merry Christmas! Today we celebrate the birth of Christ our Savior 2000 years ago. Our topic for our GIFT sessions last week was "What is the real gift of Christmas". One answer to that question of course is that the gift is the entrance of Christ our savior into human history. But did you ever stop to think about how Jesus being born (and living and dying and rising) saves us? And in particular what does this mean for you and me personally? I suggest that scripture has quite a different answer to that question than most of us realize. Let's start at the beginning. Rabbi Marc Gellman (in his book Does God Have a Big Toe?) tells the story of creation in a way that makes this answer much more obvious.
Before there was anything, there was God, some angels, and a big mess of rocks and water swirling around with nowhere to go. One day the angels came to God and said, "Don't you think that we should straighten up this mess?". So God took some of the rocks and made them into planets, and some other rocks and made them into stars, and some other rocks he made into ... just rocks. Then he took some of the water and made it into oceans, and some other water and made it into clouds, and some other water he made into ... just water. After God had done this, the angels came to God and asked, "Is it finished?". "Nope", said God.
On some of the rocks, God placed growing things, and creeping things, and crawling things, and flying things, and things that God only knows what they are. And when God had done this, the angels asked him, "Is the world finished now?". "Nope", said God.
Then God took some of the dust and some of the water and made a woman and a man, and he said to them, "I'm really tired now. Will you please finish the world for me?"
"Oh no", said the woman and the man, "we are too small to finish the world, and besides, you have all the plans." God answered them, "You are certainly not too small to finish it, but I tell you what, if you agree, I will be your partner."
"What is a partner?", asked the man and the woman. "A partner", said God, "is someone you work with to do something that is too big to do by yourself. When you have a partner, you have to keep working no matter how tired or discouraged you get because your partner is depending on you. So even on the days when you think that I am not doing enough or on the days when I think that you are not doing enough, we are still partners and we cannot stop finishing the world. That's the deal." So they all agreed to the deal.
The angels came to God again and asked him "Is the world finished yet?" God said to them, "I don't know; go ask my partners".
For a long time in my life, I understood this gift of Christ coming to save the world as something that God was doing for me, or to me. I really didn't get the point that when we talk about Christ saving the world. as a baptized Catholic, I am part of the body of that "Christ who comes to save the world". It was hard for me to consider that I am called to be a partner with Jesus in saving the world. I mean how would God ever depend on me or any human being to help save the world. But as I look more closely at the story of what we celebrate today, the birth of Jesus, God become human, it gets harder to excuse myself from being called to contribute. Let's look at this story to see what I mean.
If I understand God as the one who is going to do everything for salvation, what is this story saying when we hear God waiting for Mary to say yes to the invitation to give human life to God? What does it mean that God is radically dependent on the yes from this young woman? Mary is the least of the least: a teenaged girl in a culture that assigns no value at all to women; in a culture that is on the fringes of the known world, controlled by the powerful Roman Empire? And yet here is God holding God's breath for Mary's answer. And what is the story saying when Jesus comes as a tiny baby, completely dependent on humans for his very survival?
If I understand salvation as something that only someone with power and influence who can do great big things to spread the good news could possibly do, what is God saying by coming in human form at time and a place where he had no power, no influence, no technology for getting the message out to a wide audience? When the among the first to hear of his birth are shepherds, who were the lowest most despised rung on the social ladder. And the disciples he gathered were fishermen and tax collectors and the apostles he sent to spread the good news were a woman married 5 times and Mary Magdelene and the 11 disciples who denied him and ran away at the first sign of trouble?
If I think that salvation is God coming in power and majesty to condemn all the sinners to eternal fire, what is God saying when Jesus returned love and forgiveness for hate and injury? When he died rather than resort to power and vengeance?
And if I think that salvation is something we do individually rather than as part of a faith community so it really doesn't matter if I come to Mass regularly or practivce my religion, what is this story saying when Jesus gathered a small group of friends and traveled with them, ate with them, and taught them to continue what he started, specifically by commanding them to do this gathering in his memory?
I would suggest that the real gift of Christmas is very similar to the gift of any child born into a family. Yes it is a wonderful blessing but it comes with tremendous responsibility to the parents and the whole family. The birth of Jesus is no different except that accepting that gift is not just accepting responsibility for the life of a newborn child but accepting responsiblility for the salvation of all of creation.
I pray that each one of us, myself included, have the courage and the strength that we have received in baptism and confirmation and week after week in holy Communion to accept this gif, to open it and embrace the responsibility we have been given.
Merry Christmas, .... partners!