Texts: Isaiah 9:2-7 + Psalm 96 + Titus 2:11-14 + Luke 2:1-20
Our worlds begin and end when a child is born.
It seems dangerous to say anything about the end of the world after the Mayan apocalypse, scheduled for last Friday, failed to produce anything too spectacular. I saw an editorial comic on Saturday that read, “Same job. Same friends. Same everything. Um… this afterlife really sucks. Stupid Mayans!” That about summed it up as far as I was concerned. Lots of hype, but no real change.
Do you suppose that’s the reason doomsday predictions get so much attention? That, deep down, people are longing for the world to end, or at least to change?
These days the predictions seem to spring up every other year or so. The Jehovah’s Witnesses predicted the end of the world in 1975, then again in 1984. Back in the 70’s, Pat Robertson predicted the world would end in 1982. In the early 1990’s, Louis Farrakhan saw the first Gulf War as the beginning of a final war of Armageddon. Harold Camping has raked in millions of dollars over the years with doomsday predictions falling three times in 1994, then again in 1995, and yet again twice last year in 2011. There were plenty of predictions of chaos and destruction in the year 1999, with everyone from Nostradamus to the Nuwaubian Nation weighing in — though pop/funk musician Prince seemed sure it was all going to be a big party.
Looking ahead, there are already people who’ve gone on record saying that 2013 will be the year of Christ’s return. But most Christians will do that one better and say that today, this very night, God’s future breaks into the present once again as God takes on flesh in Jesus Christ, and that because of this eternal birth, the world as we know it has come to an end.
As much as Hollywood may prefer a fiery, explosive apocalypse, the rest of the world understands that there is no better sign or symbol for the end of one way of life and the beginning of a new one than the arrival of a baby. Gone are the days of sleeping through the night, or spontaneous late nights with friends, or disposable income. Everything is re-evaluated with reference to this new reality. There is a baby in the house.
The birth we celebrate this night is the arrival of the baby of Bethlehem, who will be given many titles throughout his life.
“He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace…” (Isaiah 9:6b-7a)
The prophet Isaiah imagined a child who would come and signal an end to the world as he’d known it, a world defined by wars and conquests and occupations. A world defined by violence. The child Isaiah imagined would bring an end to war and usher in a new age of peace.
As we sit among children and grandchildren this Christmas Eve, we are all too aware of how fragile life is and how dangerous the world around us can be. We are shocked by the increasingly frequent violence that has invaded our homes, schools and neighborhoods. We grieve with those whose Christmases this year will be defined by their losses and we pray that this world, this one we’ve too quickly grown accustomed to, would end.
Some have proposed that our world will only become safer when each of us is as armed as the most dangerous among us. That is not a new solution. In times of fear, people have always been tempted to look for their security in the power of arms, armor and armies. We look to kings and presidents and generals for assurances that we will be safe, that we will be saved.
The Christmas story gives us just the opposite. During a time no less dangerous than our own, when families were torn apart by the violence of war and torn down by the economics of empire, God ended the world as we’d known it by setting aside power and wrapping God’s own self in flesh, to live a life like ours. At a time when emperors and kings held all the power and called all the shots, God chose to be born into the world among the poor, far from home, surrounded by strangers.
Tonight each one of us is invited to see by the glow of our tiny candles that the world is not the same. The future is not defined by the past. The end of the world doesn’t take place all at once, but in each new moment as God takes on flesh in you, in me, in our church, throughout our neighborhoods, across the world. In the birth of the baby of Bethlehem, and in each new life that enters this world, God chooses creation instead of destruction as God’s preferred method of ending the world as we’ve known it.
My prayer for each of us is that we might leave this sanctuary tonight, filled with the light and the life of this new world; that we would approach the new creation outside these doors with all the love we normally reserve for a newborn child. Touch its wintery woods, smell its snowy air, pay attention to its firsts, encourage its faltering steps toward motion, snap photos of its growth, surround it with our love and protect it from all harm.
Our worlds begin and end when a child is born.
Tonight the world is born again.
O come, let us adore it.
Merry Christmas, and Amen.