CHRISTMAS SERMON

By Manfred Sorg

[This sermon delivered on December 25, 2003 in a church in Bielefeld is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.ekd.de.]


Grace be with you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Dear community!

We have all heard the Christmas story that is today’s lesson. This is a familiar story; its figures and pictures are before our eyes. Perhaps it is so familiar most people hear it as sheer poetry, as something linguistically beautiful, something romantic, as an impulse to memories of our childhood days, to hours filled to the brim and intense experiences, as an invitation to a holiday from the I or ego but ultimately as something unreal, something past.

These possible reactions do not do justice to this Christmas story. This story is an important up-to-date story that is completely necessary, a story full of human and worldly reality.

I invite you to hear this story again and transcribe it in our present reality.

I

It came to pass

- when terrorists raced their aircraft into the World Trade Center in New York and carried thousands of persons to their death;
- when the American and English governments invaded Iraq to destroy the axis of evil and force peace with deadly weapons;
- when the dictator Saddam Hussein was caught after months of searching;
- at the same time when the German government challenged theoretically the oppressive unemployment;
- at the same time when the poverty of people in some areas of this world assumed inhuman forms;
- at the same time when refugees and the persecuted were filled with uncertainty, existential threat and fear of deportation;
- at the same time when the perspectives and social security of the young and older generations seem thrown off balance.

At this time God found as much room on this earth and in this society as then in the cramped stable in Bethlehem. While the longing of people for something higher was not lost, God was not among the powerful control stations of this world where everything was exactly planned according to strict economic, political and scientific models and according to self-developed criteria. So love was greeted in this world, love that does not seek its own advantage. Compassion and humanliness have hardly any place.

Where God only has little room, humanliness also ends. There people harass, push aside or ignore others.

Still God spoke again in the middle of this world to people through many messengers. Fear not! You shall breathe and let others breathe because I let you breathe and live. I love the poor continents and the rich,

- the exploited and the exploiter,
- the oppressed and the oppressor,
- the shepherds and Herod,
- the slaves and the rulers.

God’s love is a question to all of us: Will we give it room in our world? Will we give God space in our inns – in our material and spiritual inns?

People, the Christmas story seems to continue today, spoke to one another: Let us not go to Bethlehem. What important things can be found there? Should we abandon our power and our influence, our position and our reputation, our security and our possessions, our anthropology and pictures of the world for a phantom of love and God?

So many remain locked in the status quo, each on his property:

- the rich with their money,
- the powerful with their influence,
- the poor and oppressed with their disappointment and their hatred,
- the youth with their hopelessness,
- refugees with their enormous existential anxiety.

Nevertheless the star of Bethlehem shines as the star of hope over this world. This star announces that God was found in this inconspicuous stall in an incredible nearness to people,

- to the timid who crawl back into their own shell without interest in life,
- to the hungry who lack existential securities,
- to the restless who torment and wear themselves out,
- to the imprisoned who are caught in the net of their demands,
- to the movers and shakers and
- to all of us.

God waits that we people lift our eyes to this star and discover its light,

the light that cannot be produced with human initiative,
the light with which God in this child becomes brighter for the person and the world,
the light in which God becomes our near, imminent God
in which heaven opens for this earth.

II

We should listen again to the Christmas story so it comes a little nearer to us. This story refers to us very personally and not only to the world.

Thus it came to pass that a great multitude stream together to the churches in a Westphalia city to celebrate Christmas in the festive splendor of lights with familiar music. The sextons estimated their number and the number was very great. Nearly everyone joined, one with pious conviction and another with high spirits, longings and hopes, disappointments and fears.

They were entirely occupied with their feasts, with their high spirits and longings, with themselves. But since God wants to create a space on this earth despite everything even today, the child in the manger became the speaking, acting, suffering, dying and resurrected Jesus.

The people living in this Westphalia city were:

- the lonely,
- the stricken by fate,
- the stumbling and straying,
- the despised,
- the desperate and
- the sad.

The Christmas message is true for them. For you, the Savior is born today. He comes first to you and the people living in the shadows. The healthy and successful often do not understand that the world needs him, that it needs God’s love and mercy. Their efficiency often blinds them and their success makes them deaf. Go to Bethlehem and find the divine mercy there.

And there were persons in the Christmas church services who went home and said: What an enjoyable feast! For them, everything ended with the status quo.

But others felt nothing was more important than God’s love. Their eyes were opened when that love converted them. They discovered the poor are not the only ones who live in shadows. This living-in-shadows was a matter of love and attentiveness, not a question of the bank account.

For one, the long desired or ignored face of a life partner appeared out of the darkness. For another, her strange grown-up children reappeared. Former friends and acquaintances, neighbors, colleagues and competitors arrived. They resolved to have time for one another and not only to see and circle around themselves. Encounters, communities and conversations were important. Visions and new standards were vital. So Christmas began for them. They went to Bethlehem, found the divine child in his inconspicuousness and began opening their life and the earth for this child and God’s grown-up son. Amen.

May the peace of God that is greater than our thinking come over you now and forever. Amen.