Thursday, December 24, 2020
The Scandal of the Incarnation
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77450
So here we are on another Christmas Eve. I suspect some of you are exhausted from the many preparations that you have been making to get ready for the big holiday. Or maybe you are exhausted by what is not happening this year. Or maybe, you are exhausted by all of the accommodations and changes to what is normally Christmas. Others are feeling a strange empty feeling for this is a strange Christmas this year missing family and friends. Wendy and I had planned to have both of our sons here along with her brother and sister from Austin for our first Christmas as a whole family in probably 20 years. Now it will be just the two of us and zoom or Facebook calls with the rest of the family.
I believe that sometimes we really don’t know what to do with Christmas at least the religious portion of the day. Up until this year, we have had a pretty good grip on the secular part. Big family celebrations (whether get along with Uncle Harry or not) gift giving, office parties, but this year, that is all disrupted. We don’t have that to distract us this year.
You see when you stop to think about the Incarnation the unbelievable act of God becoming man is what we really celebrate. The Incarnation makes no logical sense. You cannot look at this through logic or science. It is above all else both mystery and to quote Richard Rohr, a scandal. Theologians over the years speak of the scandal of the particular. That God chose to make himself known to us in a child, born in a specific place and in a specific time is really quite remarkable. This makes Christianity unique among world religions. It is a mystery and sometimes mysteries are best experienced and not explained. We have that opportunity this year.
After a long time, I’ve gotten to the place where I can say and truly believe, “Wow, what a wondrous thing God has done.” I can leave it at that. I can’t explain it logically nor do I need to now. I can just live in the mystery and enjoy God’s wondrous love.
Some ask, why, why did God choose to do this wondrous thing? A long time ago, I came across a story by the radio announcer Paul Harvey that makes as good an explanation as any that I have heard and as a storyteller I just can’t resist a good story. So here it is.
“There was once a man who didn’t believe in God, and he didn’t hesitate to let others know how he felt about religion and religious holidays, like Christmas. His wife, however, did believe, and she raised their children to also have faith in God and the metaphysical meaning of Jesus the Christ, despite her husband’s disparaging comments.
“One snowy night, his wife was taking their children to a Christmas Eve service in the farm community in which they lived. She asked him to come, but he refused. ‘That story is nonsense!’ he said. ‘Why would God lower himself to come to Earth through a man called Jesus? That’s ridiculous!’ So she and the children left, and he stayed home.
“A while later, the winds grew stronger and the snow turned into a blizzard. Sitting in his living room he heard a loud thump. Something had hit the window. Then another thump. He looked out, but couldn’t see more than a few feet. Bundling himself up, he ventured outside.
In the field near his house he saw a flock of wild geese. Apparently, they had been flying south for the winter when they got caught in the snowstorm and couldn’t go on—lost and stranded on his farm, with no food or shelter. A couple of them had flown into his window, it seemed. The man was moved to compassion and wanted to help them. The barn would be a great place for them to stay, he thought. It’s warm and safe and there they could wait out the storm. So he opened the doors wide, hoping they would notice and go inside. But the geese just fluttered around aimlessly and didn’t seem to notice the barn or realize what it could mean for them. He went into the house and came with some bread, broke it up, and made a bread crumb trail leading to the barn. They still didn’t catch on. Getting frustrated, he got behind them and tried to shoo them toward the barn, but they only got more scared and scattered in every direction. Nothing he did could get them to go into the barn where they would be warm and safe.
“Why don’t you follow me?!’ he exclaimed. ‘Can’t you see this is the only place where you can survive the storm? If only I could become like one of them, then I could save them,’ he said out loud. Then he had an idea. He went into barn, got one of his own geese, and carried it in his arms as he circled around behind the flock of wild geese. He then released it. His goose flew through the flock and straight into the barn and one by one the other geese followed it to safety.
“At that moment, he stopped and considered what he had said moments ago. The words reverberated in his mind: ‘If only I could become like one of them, then I could save them.’ At last, he understood God’s heart towards humankind . . . and he fell on his knees in the snow. He had come to know the One who ‘became one of us just to save us.’ ”
You see once again I want to stress that this salvation is not about Jesus coming to change God’s mind about us, but to change our minds about God. For us to understand the different way, the radically different way God loves us, each and every one of us. Gods’ love is totally beyond our understanding. That is what our traditional blessing for the end of the service says. “May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of his Son Jesus Christ.” It is both our hearts and our minds, not just one, but both and that is the message of Christmas and the Incarnation.
I want to close tonight’s thoughts with a prayer written by Howard Thurman. Jesus became one of us in the form of Jesus, to show us how to be fully human. To live into the scandal of the reality of God’s love for us as expressed by his gift of his son. Now the work of Christmas begins:
Now the Work of Christmas Begins
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
I pray that you go from here tonight renewed, refreshed and ready for what lies ahead as we go forth to love and serve the Lord who came to be like us and with us. Merry Christmas to all.