“The Jesus Movement”

Zelda Kennedy on Christmas, Sunday, December 25, 2016:

“My friends, I pray this day that the holy, living and compassionate God calls us to bring our creative and redeeming love into this world, so that we believe that we can make a difference and do what others claim cannot be done.”

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I once read a story about a grandmother, who was finishing some last-minute Christmas shopping. She was rushing her grandkids into the car. As she was closing the door, her four-year-old grandson said, “Grandma, Susie has something in her pocket.” He then reached into Susie’s pocket and pulled out a new, red bracelet.

Though she was tired, she knew it was important for Susie to return the bracelet to the store, apologize to the manager, and put the item back where she had found it. So, they did just that. Later, they stopped for a few groceries. At the checkout, the clerk asked, “Have you kids been good so that Santa will come?”

The little boy quickly said, “I’ve been very good, but my sister just robbed a store.”

The young boy used dramatic words to describe his sister’s behavior. In today’s gospel Luke does something similar through the use of remarkable words leaving one with a sense of mystery and awe regarding the transformational birth of Christ.

“Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in bands of cloth and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:4-7 NRSV)

Isn’t it amazing how we’ve come to sanitize the story of Mary and Joseph? You probably know that Mary and Joseph were not as beautifully dressed as we now depict them in the nativity scenes and Christmas plays. They were country peasants, who were dusty and dirty from being travel-worn.

And what about their means of travel – I would venture to say that riding on the back of a donkey, while being fully pregnant was no easy task. So, for Mary to make this trip was remarkable! Then, as Luke tells us, this remarkable teenager gives birth to her first child without benefit of a midwife, and with a husband who was probably scared beyond belief – in a dirty, smelly stable. (Even with doctors and nurses available to pregnant mothers, births can go awry.) So, this birth was amazing.

Mary and Joseph were lowly peasants, and the question is, “Why were they chosen to be caretakers of the Messiah? Why also was Jesus born in a smelly stable? I believe it was because of and through the grace and love of God.

Now, “In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people; to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah.” (NRSV Luke 2:8-11)

Did you know that during the time of Jesus’ birth, shepherds were considered the scum of the earth? These were people who couldn’t find a better job. On the whole, they were the outcasts of their society – people on the margins. So, why would an angel come to them? Why would a heavenly host rejoice with “Glory to God in the highest heaven”? Once again, I believe it was through the grace and love of God.

It took me many years to grasp the true meaning of Christmas, because for a very long time I missed the point. As a child it was magical. Presents just appeared under the tree. Although we attended Christmas Eve services, it was never about the baby Jesus. It was all about the fat man in the red suit and his eight reindeer. So, Jesus was never on the radar. I missed the point because even as a young person, I found it hard to believe in the grace and love of God.

John writes in the first chapter of his gospel:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:1-5 (NRSV)

Why then would Jesus come into this world, with parents who were peasants, to be born in a lowly stable – as a vulnerable baby? Why would Jesus give up all that he was to be the “light of all people”? Why Christmas? We certainly know that without Jesus saying, “Yes” to God there would be no Christmas! Without Mary saying, “Yes” to God there would be no Christmas! And without Joseph saying, “Yes” to God there would be no Christmas!

One of my colleagues once wrote, “Christmas is a potent and palatable sign of God’s desire to embrace our brokenness. And it is no accident that this God, who desired to be with us as we are, with all of our flaws and limitations, was born in a feeding station.”

My friends, I believe Jesus came into this world to gather all of our brokenness to begin a new creation; a new movement-the Jesus movement that brings us to God. You see, in and through Jesus we experience the living forbearance, the kindness, love and glory of God. Through Jesus we realize the God who loves us for who we are and who we are not. Jesus strikes a new note of forgiveness, harmony and reconciliation for all people.

“It is no coincidence that the greatest love story involves God using what appears to be the ‘least’ of the world – a Jewish peasant girl in an occupied country, shepherds, and a baby born in a stable, wrapped in bands of cloth, lying in a feeding trough” – the marginalized of their time, and thank God, they all said, “Yes” to God’s invitation.

Today, the marginalized still exists and unfortunately in far greater numbers. And just as Mary, Joseph and the shepherds were willing to open their hearts, to say yes to God and risk; I want you to believe that the God of Mary, Joseph and the shepherds still invites you and me to open our hearts to also say yes to God’s invitation for us to take risks for those who are suffering and marginalized..

The question I always ask is “Do we get it?” Do we understand that while Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, release the captives and feed the hungry during his time the same work still needs to be done today? Do we understand that we are all called to do this work?

I know it is not easy to say, “Yes” to working unselfishly in the movement of Jesus. I know it’s not easy to leave our comfort zones and take risks, and yet, that is what God is inviting and calling us to do because the work still has to be done. And the beauty of this invitation and call from God is that we get to do this in community. You and I, side by side continuing the movement Jesus, Mary and Joseph began years and years ago.

God will not come again as a baby in a stable. There will be no repeat performances. I have shared time and time again that we are to become God’s hands and feet; to become God’s love; to show God’s mercy and grace; to be expansive; to work for peace and justice. We are to help feed the hungry and release those who are in need of freedom. We are to proclaim good news to the poor and share the story of God’s wonderful love and grace. Like the shepherds, we can share the miracle of the birth of Christ. The story of God’s love and grace for the human family.

We are to speak for those who have no voice. I was listening to a radio broadcast the other day and one of the speakers shared this comment from Elie Wiesel in which he said, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

We each have a part to play! An excerpt from a Franciscan Prayer is that “we remember we are all called to continue God’s redemptive work of love and healing in God’s place, in and through God’s name, in God’s Spirit, continually creating and breathing new life and grace into everything and everyone we touch.”

My friends, once again, I pray that the Holy, living and compassionate God, calls us to bring our creative and redeeming love into this world so that we “believe that we can make difference, and do what others claim cannot be done”. I pray that God equips all of us and give to us the gifts of grace we need to continue the work of Jesus’ movement of proclamation, evangelism, witness, and service. I pray that God continues to bless all of you as God blessed the world such a long time ago in a lowly stable, when the angels proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, goodwill among people” Amen

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