live_courageously Sermon Christmas 2016

This sermon was preached Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2016, by the Rev. John Gibson on Luke 2:1-20.

Before the sermon, a piece written by John Gibson was enacted.  It is a conversation between an angel and God on how the birth of Christ came to be.  Voices are: Angel - Norman Smit; God - John Gibson.

You can read the sermon below, or you can listen to it here:

The Gospel that we hear every year for Christmas Eve is truly about values. Jesus’ birth shows us that God’s values are radically different than those of the world. They show us that the values that ultimately make a difference and endure are the ones rooted in God. The birth of Jesus asks us, “What are our values? Are they rooted in God’s love, or are they rooted elsewhere?”

The first part of today’s Gospel lays out the world’s values. These values are based on power, the use of force. The emperor Augustus commands the entire Roman Empire. He orders the whole population to be registered. The main reason ancient rulers registered people was to tax them. Taxes benefited the ruling family and their cronies. The common people got little from them. As if that wasn’t enough, Luke tells us that this census uprooted people from their homes. They had to travel, what at the time, were bandit-infested roads to towns ill equipped for such crowds. The people’s danger and inconvenience, however, mattered little to the emperor.

Our president elect Donald Trump talks about draining the swamp in Washington. Whether you like or dislike Trump, one of the reasons that he was elected was because of the discontent with Washington, the discontent with the swamp. Long before Trump, Jesus came to do the same thing. He came to drain the swamp that existed not only in ancient Rome but in all the world so that we might live abundantly, courageously and freely in the love of God.

Jesus, the Son of God, could have come with great power and might, but instead he was born in a stable and placed in a feeding trough for a crib. Jesus’ birth was hardly an auspicious beginning for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And his life was little different. He lived as a humble peasant. Even when he became known, he wandered from village to village, teaching people to love God and to love their neighbor as their self, finally giving his life on a cross.

God became vulnerable in the life and the death of Jesus Christ. As St. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, “though he was in the form of God, (Christ Jesus) did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but (he) emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (2:6-7).
In the last five years or so Brene Brown, an Episcopalian and professor of Social Work at the University of Houston, has become popular through her books and talks. In November of 2006, Brene sent her husband and children away for the weekend and she spread out the data she had collected for six years about why some people live wholeheartedly and others don’t. She found that people who live whole heartedly believe they are worthy, because they are enough in and of themselves. The have the courage to tell their story and to be themselves. They have compassion for themselves and for others. They connect with others and practice gratitude. They lean into joy and are vulnerable. They allow themselves to be seen for who they are rather than who they think people want them to be. They live and love with their whole heart, knowing there are no guarantees about the result.

She found that the people who lived halfheartedly, as it were, are perfectionists and judgmental. They wear busyness as a status symbol. They value productivity. They want to prove their superiority, and don’t get emotional, viewing emotion as a bad thing. These people are top performers but they worry about what other people think. They like certainty. They like to do it all, to do it perfectly and to make it appear effortless. And they lead anxious lives.

To her shock, Brene found that was in this group. I certainly can find much of myself here, too. As she dug deeper, she discovered the difference between the two groups was due to shame. People who live halfheartedly have a deep sense of shame. They feel that if they fail in any way it means that they’re bad. In reality, these people for all of their often high powered status positions are actually weaker and less resilient than the ones who are willing to make mistakes and to be vulnerable.

For years I wondered what God meant when he said to St. Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). I finally understand that it is only through weakness that we can see God’s incredible power. Do you see where I’m going with this? The all-powerful God becomes completely vulnerable, becomes human, becomes a defenseless baby to reveal the incredible power of God’s love. The baby Jesus lying in a manger shines the light of the greatest power in the universe into the world and into our hearts, because there is no greater power than love! There is no greater power than God’s love!

Oh yes, many people think that there is no greater power than might, than the force of arms. It’s true power can make people do things, but power can’t change them. Love can. People will willingly give their lives because they love someone, but they’ll only do what they have to do when someone is forcing them to do it. You know what I’m talking about. You know it’s true! Love is the most powerful weapon the world has ever seen! We’re gathered here tonight not to celebrate the might of the Emperor Augustus but to celebrate the one who was born in a manger. He is the one we remember. He is the one we celebrate. He is the one who shows us how to live. He is the one who shows us how to love. He is the one who changes lives.

We can live wholeheartedly, fully and freely because God loves us wholeheartedly, fully and freely. The birth of this child frees us from the anxious shackles of perfectionism, obsessive worry about the opinions of others, and valuing ourselves based upon our productivity so that we can live fearlessly, joyfully, courageously, thankfully, creatively and compassionately for all beings including ourselves. Isn’t this how you want to live? Aren’t these the values you want to have? This is the true gift of the lowly Christ child’s birth. This Christmas let us throw off the shaming shackles of the world and open our hearts to receive the greatest gift of all time, the gift of God’s love, the gift of abundant life with Jesus Christ.