A Christmas Homily for Covenant
Do the Unexpected
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
December 29, 2013
Kyndall Rae Rothaus
(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.)
I have some brief Christmas remarks to share with you this morning, but first, after all that joyous singing and happy eating and post-holiday chatter I want us to slow down this morning and hear, really hear the text.
The message I heard from Isaiah was this:
Light has dawned into the darkness,
The rod of the oppressor has been snapped in two
All evidence of violence has been swallowed
Peace has been born.
And the thing that strikes me about the text is that such marvelous things occur all due to the birth of a baby. Darkness, violence, oppression all thwarted because of a birth.
Over Christmas, my youngest sister had us enthralled as she explained in all seriousness her plan of action if anyone ever tried to kidnap or attack her. She had analyzed the potential threat quite seriously, evaluated the psychology of an attacker, considered a variety of methods for disarming someone intent on harming. Then she demonstrated what her course of action would be.
Our eyes widened and we all jumped in surprise when she began barking loudly like a dog. Undoubtedly the surprise factor was what she was going for. Instead of reacting in fear or fighting back, her plan was to startle.
All the best plans have unexpected twists. Like God marking a promise with a rainbow in the sky or God calling a shepherd boy to be a king or a teenage girl to give birth to God or like the friends of the paralyzed man who tore the shingles off a roof so as to get their friend to the feet of Jesus. Like when Jesus called into Lazarus’ tomb, “Come out!” or when Jesus took two small fish and five loaves and said, “That will be enough.”
Instead of hand-to-hand combat with the enemy, Jesus chooses to startle. Can you imagine the shock of the soldiers in the Garden when Jesus tenderly healed the ear of the man who had come to take him away? This is God’s way: not to do direct battle with evil but to rattle people loose with surprise and with story. Think of how Jesus changed the world by telling little stories called parables. He also didn’t fight off the people who came to kill him. He just quietly resurrected, whispered the news to Mary Magdalene in a garden, appeared in a locked room to the disciples, patiently let his friends touch the wounds in his hands and his side.
It is very real to me this year that though this is Christmas week/Christmas Sunday and liturgically speaking, light has come, there are many, many, many people for whom grief and trauma are still quite present and quite dark. The question for me is how do we celebrate liturgically when reality lags behind? How do we muster the strength? How do we face the lingering pain? I think the message of God’s surprising entry into the world is this:
you can’t fight darkness with darkness
nor violence with violence
the battle must happen a roundabout way
you must carry lanterns through
enemy-darkened camps, you must contest
senseless violence with courageous story,
you must enter pain and create art,
you must open a third eye that sees
beauty and hope in the dark night
where monsters lurk, you must shatter
oppression with words and friendship
and very tiny acts of kindness, you must
speak truth quietly to topple the roaring
lies, you must listen well if you are to silence
the tumult that plagues the earth
I think we celebrate Christmas to startle the evil that still plagues us, to shake loose its hold on us. It is our act of defiance, to create on occasion of joy right in the middle of something black. Celebration is never meant to be a denial of the pain, and all the pain is rarely over and done with when we break out the party. Rather the party means even amidst this grief and sorrow, we have seen some light and we honor the light using the same fervency with which we cursed the darkness. Even in the face of devastations, we create and rebuild and believe and give thanks.
In our text today, Light has dawned in darkness. The rod of the oppressor, snapped. Violence, swallowed. “But how? How?” cry our war-torn hearts. “How can this be?” we cry with the incredulous fright of the teenage Mary.
A baby was born, that’s how. We know the story so well by now we forget how unexpected this was. People were expecting a warrior, not an unwed mother. But in the biblical narrative, over and over again, peace-makers do the unexpected. God does the unexpected, and so do God’s people. The faith-filled get as creative and innovative as their creator.
Also in the biblical narrative, birth stories are prominent and always miraculous. In the biblical narrative, compassion indirectly triumphs over evil. In the biblical narrative, there is no end to surprise.
May the party of this day crack open our hearts to the surprises. May our long struggles with despair clean out wide caverns where astonishment is most welcome and arrives often. May all our pain make us forever hospitable to uninvited strangers, shocking mercies, and unconventional joys. May we carry space within our wombs for God to be born in us, space in our lives for Grace to emerge, space in our hearts for Love to be conceived. Amen.