28 December 2014

Seeing Salvation

Fra Angelico (1395-1455), Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (1440-1442)
Luke 2: 22-40

First Sunday After Christmas/ 28th December 2014

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word: for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 

“For my eyes have seen your salvation…”

My eyes, my heart are drawn to this portion of the text, to these words.  That’s what Simeon says when he sees the baby Jesus in the Temple.  He lifts Jesus up in his arms and praises God for what he had seen.

It’s a curious turn of phrase “seeing salvation.”  How does one see salvation?  Obviously, Simeon’s talking about Jesus, but what caused him to offer such extraordinary praise to a human being? What does he see?

It’s important to note how this exchange in the Temple is marvelously incarnational: he’s lifting up the baby Jesus, holding him in his arms, touching him, feeling his weight in his arms, looking at his face.  There’s emotional affect in Simeon.  It’s a fleshly experience.  It’s a reminder to us that salvation is more than a concept or idea or the state of one’s soul; instead, it’s an experience, something real, phenomenal.  

Simeon isn’t holding a religious idea or a theological concept in his arms, but an embodied soul, a real person he not only feels, but also sees.  It’s an experience of salvation that we have here—it’s real.  You can reach out to touch it, feel it, be moved by it.  It’s an experience encountered, not in some afterlife, but in this life, here and now.  It’s an experience assuring the promise and presence of God.

For the last couple of years, experience has come to mean a lot to me on my own journey, specifically the importance of religious experience, encounters with the Holy.  Theologically speaking, we Protestants (indeed, most Christians I have found) get nervous when we put too much emphasis upon experience.  We would rather try to sum up God in our creeds and confessions, thinking we have thus defined God; we would rather talk about God rather than talk about our experience of God—or lack of experience.  We’re more inclined to reduce God (along with everything else in Christianity) to an idea or a concept, to argue and debate and fight over getting belief right, as if belief can be a substitute for an experience of God’s salvation.  There are plenty who say they believe in God, as an intellectual exercise, but what about experiencing God?  There are plenty of Christians who think they are “saved” because they can affirm certain beliefs about Jesus, accept him as Lord and Savior, but what about an experience of encountering Jesus, of knowing what it feels like to be saved, of what salvation looks like?

Over and over again throughout scripture, lives are changed through encounters with the Living God, not by intellectual assent or subscribing to theological ideas Encounters with God in the flesh, directly relating with the Personhood of God, that’s what transforms.  Believe me, I’m not being critical of rigorous theological thought.  We need more rigorous thinking in the Church today, not less.  As Presbyterians, we know that theology matters.  How we think informs our life.  But, sometimes, I suspect our Presbyterian penchant for theological engagement is a defense against actually encountering the One we’re trying to talk about. For, when we try to really talk about this God we eventually discover the limit of our thought.  We can’t think our way toward salvation.  Salvation is an experience that comes upon us and our lives are changed as a result.

Jesus is how we usually render the Hebrew word Yeshua or Joshua.  It means, “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is my salvation.” The word for salvation in Hebrew yasha, meaning, “to bring out into a wide open space.”  It doesn’t mean being saved from the burning fires of hell or escaping judgment, it doesn’t mean a state of life known only after we die.  Salvation is an experience we have when we are brought out into a wide-open space and allowed to stand there freely, safely.  

Imagine:  You’re in a fortress, a castle perched high on a hill and from the castle you look down on the plain below, you look out in every direction.  You can clearly see that there isn’t a threat in sight.  No one is trying to attack you.  You’re safe there, secure.  That feeling, security within a spacious freedom—that’s salvation.  Salvation is the free space we’re given to live in.  Yasha, salvation, means living within a wide-open space. It’s the opposite of trying to live in a tight, cramped space.  It’s a wide-open space. This means that yasha, salvation, becomes the foundation of hope and a future.  Salvation means we’re given a place to live, to breathe, and to hope.  

The motto of the Royal Burgh of St. Andrews, Scotland is Dum spiro spero.  “While I breathe I hope.” That’s what Simeon encountered in the face of this baby—a fuller reason to live with hope, offering a promising future for Israel and for Gentiles.  In seeing salvation Simeon sees a wide-open space to live, to breathe—to be human. He can breathe deeply and allow his lungs to expand with air.  That’s what salvation feels like, looks like.

Henrich Suso (c.1295-1366) once saw salvation.  It was an evening in 1328, the story goes, when German mystic and Dominican monk, Henrich Suso had a vision.  An angel of the Lord approached him “brightly,” he wrote, “and said that God had sent him down to him, to bring him heavenly joys amid his sufferings; adding that he must cast off all his sorrows from his mind and bear them company, and that he must also dance with them, [the other angels,] in heavenly fashion.  Then they drew [Suso] by the hand into the dance, and the youth began a joyous song about the infant Jesus.”  When the vision ended Suso wrote down the joyous song of the angels.  He called it In dulci jubilo, in sweetest jubilation; it’s the melody for “Good Christian Friends Rejoice.”[1]

It’s fitting for us to sing this morning:

            I danced in the morning when the world was begun,
            and I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun,
            and I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth.
            At Bethlehem I had my birth. 
            Dance, then, wherever you may be;
            I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
            and I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be,
            and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.[2]

As we bring the calendar year to an end this week, and as we emerge from Advent into a new liturgical year, what if we turned our attention toward experiences of God in our lives?  Periodically, I like to ask the Elders at a Session meeting: Where have you seen God at work in this church over the last couple of months?  Where have you experienced God?  Where have you seen the spirit of Christ among us and within us? Where have you seen resurrection?  Where have you seen signs of new birth?  It’s a helpful spiritual discipline to follow at the end of each day or after a particular season in our lives.

The more we ask these questions, looking, anticipating answers, the more our outlook and attitude and perspective begin to change.  There are experiences of God all around us, sightings of Jesus’ love and grace, holy moments when we know the Spirit is among us and within us.  Where have you seen salvation?

Just recently, I saw salvation at our Blue Christmas Service during Advent. We had about six people in attendance this year.  We never have a huge crowd, but the energy and power in this space for these services is always amazing.   John Calvin (1509-1564) once said, “God is known where humanity is cared for.”  God’s Spirit was present as we cared for and provided a space for grief and hurt and sorrow and pain, and prayed together and provided hope.  Each person at that service thanked me for offering such a space.  I’m always struck by the way the Spirit is present in these services.

Where have you seen salvation this Advent and Christmas?  
Where have you seen signs of Christ’s love?  
Where have you been given space to hope, to breath, to live?
Where is God inviting you to rejoice?
Where is God drawing you into the dance of heaven here on earth?
Where is God inviting you to dance?

[1] Ian Bradley, The Penguin Book of Carols (London:  Penguin 1997), 150-153.
[2] “I Danced in the Morning,” text by Sydney Carter; music American shaker melody, adapted by Carter, 1963.  Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013).

24 December 2014

When a Stable-Place Sufficed

Meditation for Christmas Eve 2014

In the bleak midwinter, 
frosty wind made moan;
earth stood hard as iron, 
water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow,…

So Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) wrote, around 1872, describing Christmas in England, and thinking of that first Christmas in Bethlehem, when “…in the bleak midwinter, a stable-place sufficed….”[1]

Hope is born in the most unlikely places.  This is one of the major claims we affirm tonight.  Hope is born in the most unlikely places when a stable sufficed for the throne of a boy born to rule the world with the scepter of love, born for a world that relentlessly tries to silence the cry of this baby.

In 1914, guns pounded the fields of France and Belgium with a ferocity and cruelty never witnessed before in the world. By Christmas of that year, the Great War was about five months old; it was supposed to be finished by then. It took almost four more Christmases before it would end, the so-called “War to End All Wars.” This year marks the 96th anniversary of the Armistice.

For almost 90 years, on Christmas Eve, Gordon McCrea pulled out an envelope brown with age and took out the letter inside (the paper was coming apart at the folds). It was written by his father to his mother and Gordon turned to it every Christmas Eve.

It’s dated 29th December 1914, Ypres, Flanders, Belgium. The rains that fall seemed to be endless, filling the trenches along each side of No Man’s Land. Despite bailing and pumping, the bottoms of the trenches were soup-like mud and knee-deep. “The misery and stench is beyond anything I could have imagined,” he wrote. Overwhelmed by the inhumanity he witnessed, he just wanted to be home that Christmas. But then he proceeded to tell what happened.

Starting on the 23rd December through the 25th, all along the front, from Verdun to Dunkirk, the British spotted lights at the tops of the German trenches. Then the Germans lifted up trees with candles on them and heard Fritz singing, “O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum…O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree.  The Brits thought it was a trap. So, they just listened as the Germans celebrated Christmas. “When their singing stopped,” McCrea’s father said, “several of us, accompanied by a harmonica, sang, ‘Away in a manger, no crib for a bed…’  Then cheers and applause came back from Fritz’s trenches.” On Christmas Eve at midnight, Gordon’s father writes, “we heard Fritz singing ‘Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht, Alles schläft, sinsam wacht.” And the English joined back, “Silent Night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.”

“Then the miracle” occurred, as he explains it, “men without their rifles climbed out of our hell-holes and we met each other in no-man’s land, singing the same Christmas song in two languages. Cigarettes, chocolates, meerschaum pipes, pictures were shared…” Gradually, more and more men moved into No-Man’s Land between the trenches, an area full of devastation, decay, and death.  The Germans and English and Scots began to celebrate together. It was said that on Christmas Day they even played soccer together.

Word slowly leaked out to the press several days later, and through letters written home.  Both the German and the British High Command reprimanded the officers for allowing fraternizing with the enemy.  It never happened again in the course of the war.

The Princess Mary Tin (Photo: KEKovacs)
For that first Christmas the British Royal Family sent a gift to every soldier on the front.  They were known as Princess Mary Tins. It was actually the initiative of the 17-year-old daughter of King George V and Queen Mary.  Each tin contained a greeting card, some cigarettes, chocolate, pencil, and pad. I actually have one.  The lid reads: Christmas 1914.  My tin here is missing all of its contents. Nevertheless, it's almost a holy relic for me.  I like to imagine that whoever received this tin witnessed that Christmas Truce, one hundred years ago tonight.

The Christmas Truce was an anomaly in the war, but the very fact that it occurred places the entire war in sharp relief, especially when we remember that the overwhelming majority of the people in the warring nations—Britain, France, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Austro-Hungary, & Russia (and later, the United States)—were Christian. Japan and the Ottoman Empire and India were, of course, non-Christian states, yet they were deeply influence by centuries of Christian thought and practice—Christians now ripping themselves to shreds. Each side had the equivalent saying: God is with us.[2]

Gordon’s father wrote, “I don’t know how long this ‘Peace on Earth’ will last, but it as if the angels thronged the air over Flanders, and grim earth, hard as iron, sufficed to house God’s Christ once again. Not just in churches and warm homes where lighted trees and presents await good children, but God declared that Flanders muck and stench would suffice.  And for four days the guns fells silent for 100 miles. All was calm, if not bright.”[3]

The good news of this night, my sisters and brothers in Christ, is that stable-places still suffice, whether it’s the stench and muck of a manger, the stench and muck of Flanders fields, or maybe the stench and muck of our lives, every place where the bleak midwinter tries to smother our joy, God’s Christ continues to be born there.  

On this Christmas Eve we gather on this corner in God’s Kingdom, surrounded by a world filled with people hungry for good news.  Many are just plain hungry and worried and afraid and scared.  The stock market might be at record highs and unemployment on the decline, yet anxiety still prevails in our polarized society.  People are tense, you can feel it, and it’s almost palpable. I can feel it and can see it. So many loved ones and friends are suffering from so many illnesses this Christmas, mourning the loss of loved ones, of friends, of broken marriages, missing their children.

The world can be so terribly dark, with the bleakest places are never very far away. It’s said that the night is darkest just before the first light of dawn. We are here to claim that in the darkness a new light emerges.  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).  The light doesn’t remove the darkness. Instead, God’s light emerges from within the darkness and the darkness doesn’t have the power to overcome it.  This means that in the bleakest places, the darkest places, a new hope can be born. In a world of senseless violence, at the tip of Caesar’s spear, a different peace comes to us from Bethlehem. In every lonely, troubling place, in every absence and place of deepest ache there is a presence who fills every empty place with a peace and comfort and even joy that the deepest pain cannot take away.

For God will not be pushed out of life. God will not be silenced. God seeks to be born among us—with us—within us, no matter what or where. For in the bleakest places and times, the light of Christ continues to be born and born again and again; the light of Christ continues to shine and shines even in the darkness, and the darkness shall never, ever over come it – ever.  Ever!

[1] Christina Rossetti’s poem "In the Bleak Midwinter" (c.1872) was set to the tune CRANHAM, written by Gustav Holst (1874-1934) in 1906.
[2] On the theological dimension of the war see Philip Jenkins, The Great and Holy War:  How World War I Became a Religious Crusade (HarperCollins, 2014).   Also, Christopher Craig Brittain, “Religion in the Trenches of the Great War,” Religion at Ground Zero: Theological Responses to Times of Crisis (London:  Continuum, 2011), 39-61.  See also Kenneth E. Kovacs, “When ‘Christian’ Europe Went to War”.
[3] Letter cited throughout is found in Terry Schoener, “A Stable-Place Sufficed,” in Stories for Christmas Eve Telling (2008), 54-57. See also Stanley Weintraub, Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce (Plume, 2002).

21 December 2014

In the Flesh

Galatians 4:4-7 & John 1:1-18

Fourth Sunday of Advent/ 21st December 2014

You won’t find the Galatians text in any lectionary for the Fourth Sunday of Advent.  Neither will you find John 1.  The John text is often read on Christmas Eve.  It’s one of the suggested lectionary readings for the Nativity of Jesus Christ, otherwise known as Christmas Day.  While Christmas Eve might be the ideal time to preach on John 1, given all the festivities associated with the service, the lateness of the hour at the candlelight service, and the fact that many are simply exhausted just getting to that evening, folks are here for worship just to hear the music and the story.  But when do we take the time to seriously consider the radical claims we will celebrate this coming week?  When do we take the time to reflect on the true reason for the season?  Yes, Jesus is the reason for the reason.  But exactly what about him?  What about him, his manner of birth, the nature of his life, the purpose of his life?  When do we take the time to stand in awe and amazement before the wondrous announcement made to shepherds, to the poor, to the wise, to those in power? When do we take the time to consider the mystery of the Incarnation?  That’s what I hope to do here.

I have to admit, though, there’s considerable hesitancy on my part.  First, I’m getting over a cold or something flu-like and so my brain is a little foggy.  And so I look to the Holy Spirit to make up for my deficiencies—which is my hope for every sermon.  Second, it’s daunting to consider the subject matter.  There isn’t enough time in the world to explore the height and depth and reach of this theological claim. You and I are not equal to the task.  No one is.  And yet we are called to give expression to the inexpressible, to find words to say what cannot be said.  That’s what scripture does, it attempts in different ways to give expression to the inexpressible.

Our understanding of the Incarnation took some time to emerge.  The earliest gospel, Mark, written around 70 AD, doesn’t have a birth narrative. There’s no story about Jesus’ origins, he just shows up as an adult seeking baptism in the wilderness.  Matthew and Luke have birth stories, but they’re not the same.  In Luke we have the annunciations to Mary and to Elizabeth, we have Mary’s song, the Magnificat, we have shepherds and choirs of angels singing in the fields near Bethlehem.  In Matthew there are no shepherds, no choirs of angels, but he has the story about the Magi and the slaughter of the innocents.  John’s gospel says nothing about Joseph or Mary or shepherds or choirs of angels or wise men or Bethlehem.  John’s gospel, written around 90 AD, so very late after Jesus’ life, is far more philosophical and theological.  The first five verses of John, the prologue, are simply sublime and eloquent and jammed-packed with theological treasure.  Volumes could be, and have been written on these first five verses alone. 

So, we might say that the stories of Jesus’ birth come late in the emergence of Christianity.  And so it’s easy to see why the events associated with Good Friday and Easter have taken precedence in the history of the church.  Now, I don’t want to get into a debate whether or not Christmas is more important than Easter or vice versa.  In order for Easter, we need Christmas.  Jesus has to be born. 

Even though the gospels were written between 70 and 90 AD, the story of Jesus’ birth is older than the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  How do we know?  Because it’s right here in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, written between 50 and 60 AD.  Paul never read the gospels and yet he knew the story.  “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children” (Gal. 4:4-5).

Or listen to what we have in Colossians, written in the 50s, a text singing to the supremacy of Christ, but also reflecting an even older tradition that refers not just to the birth of Christ, but another idea, that Christ was with God at the beginning of time and that all things have come into being through Christ.  Listen: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible…all things were created through him and for him.  He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:15-20).

There’s no record that the author of John’s gospel read Colossians, but we find similar ideas, right in the opening verses.  Here, John is intentionally linking the opening verses of Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,” with these words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Word here—capitalized—is a translation of the Greek word logos.  The use of Word or Logos to describe Jesus is heavily influenced by Greek philosophy at the time.  In Greek thought, the Logos or Word referred to reason, order, wisdom, logic, meaning, and intelligence.  Plato, for example, would have said that the Word brought everything into being.  According to John, the Word was in the beginning with God and “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”

All of this sounds very philosophical and theologically abstract—and it is, but it absolutely necessary for us to have some sense of what John is doing here because then he leaves the prevailing philosophy behind, throws it out the window, and then takes an enormous theological leap to say, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory….” And the Word became flesh.  Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο (Kai o logos sarx egeneto).

And so here is the fullest articulation of the Incarnation that we have.  It’s implied elsewhere, but here it becomes as concrete and real as one can get. 

Every word in the opening of John’s gospel is significant.  Everything word is intentional, including the use of the word flesh.  Kai o logos sarx egeneto.  And the Word became flesh, sarxSarx was a crude term, a crass way of referring to the body.  It’s John’s way of saying that the divine wisdom, Logos, became gritty and grimy and human, something we can touch and feel and smell.  John links the living flesh of a human being, named Jesus, with the divine wisdom that holds the world together and gives it life and light and meaning.[1]  It’s all held together in Jesus, which means that humanity and divinity are now inextricably joined together in him, the spiritual and the physical are joined, heaven and earth are married, and nothing can divorce them, because love is the force that holds them together.  Love is the force that connects them.  Love is the force that binds humanity and divinity. Love is the force that intertwines them.  Christmas is the celebration of God’s enfleshment in history, through Jesus.  That’s why the angels sing!

Incarnation is the celebration of God’s enfleshment in Jesus.  It’s the celebration of God’s embodiment in him.  And because we are “in Christ” and live in him by virtue of our baptism into his life, the truth of the Incarnation is also a celebration of God’s enfleshment in us.  It’s a celebration of God’s embodiment in us.  It’s a celebration of love in embodied in the world in Christ, and love embodied in the world through you and me.  Humanity and divinity are linked together in us.  From a Jewish perspective, from the tradition of Genesis onward, the spiritual and the physical have always been joined together.  In Genesis God breathed into the dust and animated it, forming Adam: enspirited flesh or enfleshed spirit.  This wasn’t the case in the Greek world, which was dualistic, tending to privilege spirit over matter.  Privileging Spirit over matter is not a Jewish idea, or a Christian idea.  Spirit and matter are linked together.  Matter matters. 

The Franciscan Richard Rohr was eloquent this week in his blog, reflecting on the meaning of the Incarnation.  Rohr illustrates the significance of Jesus’s birth and then he brings it forward into our time, to our lives.  We can affirm and believe, “The Word became flesh,” but how does that, then, change the way we live, the way we relate to ourselves, to our bodies, to others, to the body of the earth?  Much hinges on our ability to fathom the mystery of the Incarnation.  Rohr said, “What Jesus allows us to imagine—because we see it in him—is that the divine and the human are forever one. God did not just take on one human nature, although that is where we could first risk imagining it in the body of Jesus. God took on all human nature [–yours and mine—]and said “yes” to it forever! In varying degrees and with infinite qualities, God took on everything physical, material, and natural as himself. That is the full meaning of the Incarnation. To allow such a momentous truth, to fully believe it, to enjoy it in practical ways, to suffer it with and for others—this is what it means to be a Christian!”[2]

 “For most Christians, though, Jesus is totally divine, but not totally human. We deny his humanity and overly assert his divinity—instead of the very synthesis that he came to exemplify, announce, and share!” I wholeheartedly agree with Rohr when he says, “We’ve paid a big price for such dualistic thinking because when we can’t put it together in [Jesus, being both divine and human], we can’t put it together in ourselves either. And that’s the whole point! You and I are simultaneously children of heaven and children of earth, divine and human coexisting in a well-hidden disguise….  The good news is that flesh and spirit, divine and human, coexist.” And the “oneness of being between Jesus Christ and God that characterized the Incarnation is not something of merely temporary duration,” that is occurring only for a time while Jesus was alive but then gave up, instead this oneness, this union “is a final reality enduring endlessly into eternity.”[3] Christ remains the Incarnated One. Unfortunately, this message has not been clearly communicated in the Church across the centuries.  “The consequences have been disastrous at all levels. Matter always reveals Spirit, and Spirit lies hidden in all that is physical, material, earthly, human, flawed, and failing.”[4]

Many years ago when I was in seminary, it was my mentor and friend, Dr. James Loder, who first helped me to see the importance of the Incarnation.  How we approach the Incarnation has considerable implications for the way we live as Christians, how we view God and Jesus, but also how we view ourselves, our bodies, our identities, how we see the world and engage it.  Jim once said me, I’ll never forget it, “Ken, the Christian experience of transformation is not an out-of-body experience,” meaning, the Spirit doesn’t take us out of ourselves or out of our bodies, the Christian life is not escapist, the Spirit is not trying to rescue us out from the world or ourselves.  Instead, “the Christian life is an in-the-body experience,” meaning, the Spirit is forever putting us into our bodies, putting us into the world, thrusting us down deep into matter, into concrete existence, into the physicality of flesh.  God is always seeking incarnation.[5]  In Christ, yes, certainly, but also in us and through us, because of Christ at work in us.

This has been true in my own experience.  I also think it was true for, of all people, someone like Ebenezer Scrooge.  Charles Dickens’ (1812-1870) glorious Christmas Carol provides us with one of the most accessible accounts of the stages of human transformation and what is required for the human heart to be so transformed.  We all know how the story ends.  Unfortunately, the story has been reduced into a simple morality tale. What’s often missed in the countless versions of the story—plays, musicals, even cartoons with the likes of Mr. Magoo—is Dickens’ description of Scrooges’ gradual realization of what transpired throughout the night in his dreams. Scrooge was given a new life in the midst of the old.  Everything old is seen with fresh eyes.  The world is reborn on Christmas morning because his heart is reborn.  Everything has become every blessed thing.  For, how you see the world depends in large part upon what you bring to it, what we bring to the world through our hearts.  This is how Dickens describes Scrooge awaking on Christmas morning: 

“Yes! and the bedpost was his own.[–The bedpost.  And when was the last time you gave thanks to God for your bedpost?  If you have a bedpost.  Or, when was the last time you gave thanks to God for your bed, or your nightstand beside your bed, or your comforter?—] Yes! and the bedpost was his own.  The bed was his own, the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!...  ‘I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!’ Scrooge repeated as he scrambled out of bed.  ‘The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this!  I say it on my knees, old Jacob; on my knees!’”

On his knees.

“He was so fluttered and so glowing with his good intentions, that his broken voice would scarcely answer to his call.  ‘They are not torn down,’ cried Scrooge, folding one of the bed-curtains in his arms, ‘they are not torn down, rings and all. They are here:  I am here: the shadows of the things that would have been, may be dispelled.’  His hands were busy with his garments all the time: turning them inside out, putting them on upside down, tearing them, mislaying them, making parties to every kind of extravagance.  ‘I don’t know what to do!’ cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath.  ‘I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody!’”  He’s so happy, he feels like a baby and he doesn’t mind feeling like a baby.

And then in the midst of his revelry he’s assailed, as Dickens puts it, “by the churches ringing out the lustiest peals he had ever heard.
Oh, glorious,


Glory, indeed.  Gloria!  Gloria in excelsis Deo!  Glory to God in the highest! And joy to the world, joy of the Word who never ceases seeking enfleshment in the world, in your world, and in mine.

Thanks to the members of the Thursday Morning Bible Study for last week's fascinating discussion of the Incarnation, a conversation that helped to shape the contours of this sermon.

Image: William Blake (1757-1827), Annunciation to the Shepherds, Morning of Christ's Nativity.

[2] Richard Rohr, “Incarnation,” adapted from The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis.
[3] Thomas F. Torrance, ed., The Incarnation:Ecumenical Studies in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed A. D. 381 (Edinburgh: The Handsel Press, 1981), xv.
[4] Rohr on “Incarnation.”
[5] On Loder’s incarnational theology, see Kenneth E. Kovacs, The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter and Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011).
[6] Charles Dickens, The Annotated Christmas Carol, edited with an introduction and notes by Michael Patrick Hearn (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004), 149-150. Emphasis added.