This is the draft for my short Christmas Eve homily, which will be delivered at the 11 PM service at St. Paul’s UCC in Dallastown, PA, tomorrow evening. And, of course, I stole/cribbed the title from Laurel Schneider’s great essay in the volume Polydoxy, which she coedited with Catherine Keller. The lection for the homily is Galatians 4:4-7.
St. Paul writes that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children,” continuing, and “because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father’!” Therefore, we are no longer a slave, but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” (NRSV)
This passage from scripture from St. Paul in Galatians 4 is probably everything we need to know about Christmas in just a few sentences, that God submits to the logic of sacrifice, to be sacrificed on the cross, by entering human form and submitting to the law or logic of humanity. And as a result, we are all children of the same divine Parent: no longer slaves to the ways of the world but heirs to inherit the Kingdom of God by building the Kingdom of God for ourselves and for future generations.
But is this really how it all works? Have we ever realized the brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity? Have we ever found a way to subvert the system of violence and crucifixion that this world has known? I believe that many of our nations and much of humanity may believe that we have achieved this first step of bringing peace on earth and goodwill to humankind, but we know we have really cheated the full sense of what it means to acknowledge that God is born in a manger, and as such we become adopted children.
There is something special about the Christmas carol “Away in a Manger,” aside from how theologically problematic, or even docetist, the words are. As a lullaby that we sing to children, we sometimes miss out that when we sing “Away in a Manger” to children, we are ordaining them, with Christ, to lead us as children to be closer to God.
What would this world be like if we not only recognized the Christhood and the Godhood present in the new flesh of babies and children, and honor the sacredness of this humanity God has come to save? We know that with the number of children living in poverty and in hunger in our country and everywhere in the world, we have not only turned our backs upon the world but we have turned our backs upon God-made-flesh. Or perhaps stated more accurately, it would seem that the behavior of this world has in fact stolen the divinity and sacredness of cribs of unsuspecting children throughout the world.
A first step for us to move forward is to recognize that we, too, have had our Christhood stolen from the crib, as well, that we too are victims of this world as we participate in the victimization of the world. And recognizing that the God who is made known to us in newborn flesh is with us, and in us, living and breathing, and perishing with us. If the Christ-child has been abducted from our lives, it’s time to return him into our hearts, and into our spirits. If we have cheated in responding to the Good News of Christmas, it is now time to rectify our commitment to the Kingdom of God, whose birth pangs are ringing loudly around us in Christmas bells, and festive lights, and carols, and in the anticipation of children on this dark and cold night.