Sermon at Bend Church, December 24, 2017
If I had to sum up my life in just one word, it would be “yes.”
Yes, I am beloved: by my family, by my spouse, by my community.
Yes, I feel called to the meaningful work of loving people and loving the world.
Yes, I believe our God chose to wear flesh and be born into a dusty manger one long, dark night two thousand years ago.
Yeses my whole life through.
Yeses every Christmas season.
Except not this one.
All of a sudden, “yes” is beginning to feel hollow.
A little empty. A little too saccharine and simple.
My gut knows that there is power in yes–
especially the “yes” of a brave Palestinian teenager who consented
to carry the Messiah in her womb–
but my gut also fears what happens when there is too much
nodding of heads,
murmurs of agreement,
Too many “uh-huh”s and too many “paths of least resistance.”
We know that old-fashioned term for someone at the office who never stands up for what he believes in…
A “yes man.”
Heaven forbid I become a “yes” woman.
Heaven forbid we become “yes” people.
Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in high heaven! And on earth, peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.”
The angels have come to bring good news: good news for
all people and
good news especially for those scraggly shepherds
keeping watch that night.
These are men who occupied the lowest rung on the ladder in their society:
living isolated out in the fields,
protecting themselves with hidden knives kept in their robes,
perhaps suspicious of a culture that cast them out–
a society that would not admit their testimony in court.
These are men who, along with thousands of others, lived under the rule of
the one they called
Prince of Peace.
In other words, they lived under Caesar. This Caesar–Augustus–was known for resolving conflicts through violence and victory.
And so he named himself:
Prince of Peace.
He could trace his genealogy back 1,000 years.
That meant something back then. Power. Legitimacy.
His family lineage, his ability to violently control land and people:
this meant he could control the movements of people across borders,
impose high taxes on the poorest, and force his subjects to call him “Lord.”
The very first listeners to this story would have known:
The angels have an agenda.
We have good news for you, the heavenly host say.
Good news for those who occupy the lowest rung.
Good news for the ones who are isolated, the ones who are suspicious.
The real Prince of Peace has been born,
among you, from out of your own people.
The Gospel According to Luke will later tell us that Jesus’ lineage can be traced all the way back to Eve and Adam, the very first people God created.
And this Lord, Christ Jesus, will bring peace for all the lowly ones.
Peace, the kind that comes through justice, not victory.
The Marys, the Josephs,
the shepherds of the world,
the lowly ones–
have been made by Caesar to nod their heads,
walk the path of least resistance,
murmur their “yes” to the latest round of violence and oppression.
Until the heavenly host appear to tell the shepherds that God has come to live on Earth and to say:
Not any more.
I think of the strong and deep ‘no”s that have shaped history.
Rosa Parks, when it was demanded that she give up her seat on the bus to a white person.
The first responders who arrived on the scene after September 11th, refusing to resign themselves to what others thought was inevitable.
The many women and men who have suffered from abuse and harassment in their workplace, who were pressured to stay silent to protect the abusers.
Because their lives, and the lives of all God has created on Earth, have a worth
and a blessedness that require defiance.
Our God who chose to wear flesh and bones that night, shows us that, without a shadow of a doubt:
You are worth the impossible pregnancy,
the hard-fought labor.
You are worth the controversial mission and ministry,
the anticipated persecution by the empire that was and is.
You are worth the vulnerability and the struggle,
the road to the cross.
As much as you are worth God’s life,
you are worth God’s death.
As much as you are worth God’s YES,
you are worth God’s HELL NO.
No to homelessness or housing insecurity,
no to rising housing costs that force people out,
no to the circumstances and the systems that create them.
No to hunger and disease,
no to the separation of families across borders,
no to the oppression and fear that accompanies it all.
We celebrate tonight the gift of that defiance.
That Christmas night, in the face of poverty and confusion, God entered in.
Because God delights in what God has created. God loves it.
A wise priest once told me that every time a child comes into the world, it is Christmas.
It is a sign of God’s delight in Creation.
In some ways, It is a big ol’ YES to what God has made.
But God’s YES is the inevitable NO to the powers and principalities of this world.
NO to the ways that we are all participants in systems we did not create but that
bind us and our neighbors up in a web of fear and forgetfulness.
Jesus’ birth was the ultimate reminder.
Christmas is our remembrance of that reminder.
A reminder that not everything goes.
“uh huh” isn’t good enough.
Yes doesn’t always cut it.
Whatever does not support and celebrate the worth and life and dignity and beauty of every little piece of God’s Creation– whatever stands in the way of that or seeks to cut it down–
God says NO to all that.
There is holy defiance there.
But there is also relief there.
That in that dusty manger, God says the words we have not been able to say.
Because we have been silenced.
We have been choked up.
We have forgotten.
God says the words we cannot say.
Tonight is a silent night, a holy night,
because we have been given permission to be speechless in the face of the
profound love of the One who made us.
To revel in that sweet defiance.
To celebrate, to notice, to reflect.
To love and be loved.
The burden of defying all that is hurtful and wounded in this world
lies not on us, but on the one,
born of a poor Palestinian teenager,
whose birth was first celebrated by the lowest of the low,
and whose mission on Earth was that most defiant kind of love.
The burden lies not on us,
but we may find we cannot help but
respond to that kind of love with our own version of
We defy, and we also rest with the blessed assurance that…
…in the quietest of moments,
in the most common of things–
God is there.
In the fear of a young mother,
the tension between lovers
the wondering: will there be a place for us?
God is there.
In the cry of a baby, and its longing for milk,
in the low of the cattle
and the smell of sweet straw.
God is there.
In all of it: God defies conventional wisdom,
God stands up to systems of hierarchy and oppression,
God says no: no longer will I be separate from my own kin.
It is a sweet, silent urging that
there is truer, there is more perfect
wholeness intended for us and for all of Creation.
Intended for you.
And to whatever may stand in the way of that wholeness,
God stands defiant with a
And to that, on this Christmas night, we say YES, God.
May it be so.