Toorak Uniting Church

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Contrasts, contrasts!

Psalm 97     Luke 2: 1 – 14
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
25 December 2004

May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

There is a marked contrast between the terms in which Psalm 97 speaks about God and the way Luke 2 speaks about God. And I would like to suggest that, if we had not been blunted by years of exposure to the Christmas story, we would, in the first instance, probably feel more at home with the terminology used in psalm 97 than that of Luke 2.

We like God to be big, don’t we? Almighty and most High, tucked away somewhere in a far away heaven, benignly keeping watch over earths proceedings. Only very rarely coming down to intervene in our, human, affairs. We like to portray God as the keeper of decency and ethical conduct. A God who loves the righteous and judges the evil. A God loving but awesome and conveniently distant, a God that punishes the bad and rewards the good, but for the rest lets earth run itself.
Some sugar uncle we can visit when we feel like it and on whom we can count to step in for us whenever we feel we are in trouble.

In the words of Psalm 97: The King of all the earth, whose throne is built on righteousness and justice, whom the earth sees and trembles, before whom mountains melt like wax…….

Why then have we all got so attached to the story of Luke 2, the story of God taking the flesh of ordinary humanity in all its fragility? If you look at it more closely, this story is really a very unsettling story where our image of God is concerned. Or, it should be, anyway.

According to Luke and to the other gospels God became a man, a very normal, vulnerable, fragile human being like us, who lived life as God would want us all to live and paid with a horrific death for doing so. He lived a life of righteousness and justice, healing and love, in a world full of injustice, violence and pain. In him the gospels say, God himself came to earth, to live with his people, to live the life of his people, to become one with them.

And God did that not by parachuting down from heaven, or entering the world under cover, moving in and out whenever things got a bit too complicated and difficult, but by actually being part of human life from the very start, from before birth. And not in an easy, comfortably organized type of life either, but in a life that was wrought with difficulty and disadvantage from the start and would end in a miserable criminal’s death on the cross.

It is the story of this man’s birth Luke tells: His mother a young girl not even married, his father, as far as the gossips of Nazareth were concerned probably considered unknown. His (step) father also very probably regarded as a softy who could have had his future wife stoned for getting pregnant without him. Born in a cattle shed in want of better accommodation. The first visitors a bunch of ruffians straight from the fields outside Bethlehem.
God’s Son come down to earth an unwanted and outcast from the beginning.

Why would God do such a thing? Why would he take such a risk? To come, vulnerable and naked, a baby in need of nurture and nursing, a child with no status and no defense. Why would God, if he wanted to be part of human life at all, want to start life like that? Isn’t that an enormous gamble when you are King of the Universe? To entrust yourself to human hands, human beings? And in an environment that is not very advantageous for such an undertaking to begin with? To make yourself dependent on a young girl and her husband? On the goodwill of an inn keeper and the friendliness of shepherds? Isn’t that taking things a bit far? Surely he could have done with a little bit more security, a little bit more comfort, a little bit more of a decent start in life?

I think that is exactly the point Luke is making: That somehow the unbelievable happened, that God wanted to be so involved with us that he chose to go the whole way in sharing our existence, at it’s worst and at it’s best. It is that story Luke tells, of the Almighty come down, of the King of the Universe in a manger, of angels seeking out shepherds instead of the mighty rulers that reigned the day.

That high God that psalm 97 talks about wanting to be involved in the lives of ordinary human beings, of people that weren’t in the best of positions or in the most comfortable places in life and proving there that God’s light reaches into the darkest corners of this world.

That is the miracle of Christmas we celebrate, that God loves his people so much that he became one of them and shared their joy and sorrow, lived in the flesh and showed what a life of righteousness and peace actually looks like. Not an easy life, not a happy ending either. The powers of the world from the beginning out to get him and put an end to it all. But God doesn’t give up, the light proving to be indistinguishable, the power indomitable.

Perhaps that’s why we like the Christmas story so much: Because this little, vulnerable and fragile child, as vulnerable and fragile as we come, will in the end conquer death itself. Because new life will come through this child and a different future. A future where it is not the mighty that have the last say, but love and light that win the day. Fear not the angel says, fear not because I bring good tidings. What could there be to fear if God is so involved with us, cares so much for us, that he is prepared to become part of us, suffer what we suffer, celebrate where we celebrate, win where we can’t? Perhaps that is better after all, than the remote, mighty and untouchable God of Psalm 97. Amen.

You put your life into our hands
when you were born
in that stable in Bethlehem
You trusted us with the most precious you had
Jesus Christ your Son
who came and changed the world forever
now help us to trust you with ours
our lives and all our goods
Take us,
renew and remake the world
through us.
Let your light be born in us
this day and every day
Lead us on.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2004

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