“Leaping for Joy”
Rev. Stephen Milton December 13th, 2020
(This sermon was given on the Sunday our children performed the virtual Christmas Pageant).
Thanks kids, that was awesome. As adults, we look forward to Christmas pageants each year, a chance to see a familiar story retold by children, in a way that is usually fraught with mistakes, miscues and mispronunciations. If those happened in a Broadway show, we would be incensed. But when kids do it for a Sunday School production, mistakes are charming, even essential. In Christmas pageants, we can see very clearly that what we’re watching is a story, something concocted, like the Christmas candies and cookies that come out this time of year. It is like a hot air balloon – we know it isn’t an efficient way to travel, but that’s why we want to hop on and be lifted off the Earth for a while. The unrealistic nature of it seems to be the key to why it works.
I have been thinking about this lately because each year on Facebook I post daily reflections about the symbols of Christmas. Each day I talk about part of the Christmas story and its associated traditions. I’ve posted on Santa Claus, the Christmas star, the animals in the stable where Jesus was born. I share them on the United Church Facebook page as well as our own, and they generate some very interesting conversations. We’ve talked about whether Santa can be Black, why there are ox and donkeys in paintings of the nativity scene, and whether Jesus was even born in a stable. One person shared an article where a scholar argued that the New testament has been mistranslated – where it reads there was no room at the inn should really read there was no room in the house guest room. This scholar asserted that Mary and Joseph probably stayed in a house with members of Joseph’s extended family, in a room where the animals ate. They weren’t alone or forgotten at all.
This begs the question, how much do facts matter here? If facts are all, then we should wait until the scholars get them all straightened out and nailed down. Only then will we know what we’re supposed to be celebrating. The problem with that approach is that in a scientific age, the results are never all in. They keep coming, a bit at a time, every year, so a truly evidence-based faith would have to be one that is permanently on hold. Should we celebrate Christ’s birth – yes, but not yet. Let’s wait until we’re sure what happened.
Well, as you can see with today’s Christmas pageant, that’s not how faith works. For centuries, each December we have been happily stepping into the hot air balloon that is the Christmas story, and looking forward to floating upward for a while. We sense magic in this story, probably because it contains so many elements that defy what reason tells us is possible. When it comes to faith, what is most important is not what happened, for that can never be truly known. What really matters is whether your mind and heart can take a step towards what seemed impossible. We get in our guts that Christmas is a time for dreaming, for stepping beyond the possible, towards something better. The story of angels and shepherds and Magi is an invitation to say that we can do better than the reality the world asks us to settle for. We can do better, not just that one day 2000 years ago a bunch of impossible things happened. No, we can do impossible things, but for them to happen it starts here ( brain) – or should I say ( pointing to heart) – here. We need to give ourselves the chance to leap for joy, the way John the Baptist did when he was still in the womb. Wonderful things are possible, if you are willing to take a leap of faith and stop worshipping the real. Because the fact is, every part of human reality started out as an idea, good or bad. Those ideas can turn into institutions which seem inevitable and beyond change. But if a little baby, wrapped in a story about angels and Magi can conquer the Roman empire, and spread all over the world, now numbering 2 billion followers, then we should not worry about whether our story is a little short on facts here and there. This kind of dream needs more than facts to get off the ground. And when it does, and when you let it, you get a view from above of a world that still has hope, and can still change and be more wonderful than ever before, guided by hope, peace, faith and joy.