The Sunday Sermon: Second Sunday Advent – December 9, 2018
Scripture: Matthew 1:18 – 23
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Incarnation: Parents of God
It’s Advent. The second Sunday of Advent, 2018. Count up the Advent “waits” in your life. Add one year to your age, and count ‘em up. This is my 54th Advent wait. Larry? Tom? Dan and Laura, how many for the girls? Lucas and Annie?
That’s a lot of waiting. And … we’re still waiting. Waiting for what has been here since the Universe began.
We heard that last week, that what we’re waiting for has always been here. In the beginning was the Word … There was never a time when the “Spirit of God” was not, when the pre-existent Spirit of God was not present in creation. Think about that. Do you believe that? That “in the beginning was the Word?” This would mean that the “pre-existent Spirit of God” was present even before human beings came on the scene. Before the self-reflective, self-centered, human creature emerged, and long before the experience of animism – the belief that we are endowed with a soul and an inner sense of “aliveness” – arrived on the evolutionary landscape. Humans, as a species are about 200,000 years old. The Universe is almost 14 billion years old.
In the beginning … was the Word. To say that, to profess and believe that, is to ground our belief in “God” deep into an awareness of how sacred the universe, and most pertinent to us, the earth itself is. And with that deep awareness of the holiness of all of creation, we begin to understand our own sacredness, not as creatures from another realm trying to return to somewhere, but as “earth”-lings trying to be “all we were created to be” right here.
We’re waiting (again this year) for what has been here since the universe began: Incarnation. Let’ s pray together …
Incarnation … I noted this last week, and probably will in one way or another throughout Advent and even on Christmas Eve, that in a very real sense, this is what Christmas is all about for those of us who put our Christian identity ahead of any other in our lives. But, as each year goes by, I get more and more worried that we are getting further and further away from what “Incarnation” can truly mean for us – what “Incarnation” must truly do to us.
We have come to think of Incarnation almost exclusively as a Christian doctrine, or teaching, about someone else only, exclusively. We teach and learn and pass on the belief that a “pre-existent Spirit of God was incarnated for the first, and only, time in a human being,” in one human two thousand and eighteen years ago: Jesus of Nazareth. While we should continue to believe that God was incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth – he was, is, and must be special to us, central to our faith – we must expand our understanding of Incarnation to include ourselves, to consider that our belief in the Incarnation means we believe that the “pre-existent Spirit of God becomes human in us!” And, if in us, then also in others, even in non-human creation. This is what Christmas is all about. Not just that the Spirit of God became flesh two thousand years ago, or even before Time itself, in one particular human or Logos, but that this Spirit was “in the beginning” of all creation and becomes human still, each and every day in each and every one of us when we, like Jesus, have the courage to be all we are created to be.
Last week we dared to consider how the “Word,” that which was “in the beginning” is made flesh in us, just like Jesus. We are God’s Word incarnate. Did you hear that last week? I didn’t get any emails or phone calls or requests to have coffee or lunch together with anyone concerned or confused by last week’s sermon. Now, that’s either because you are an incredibly theologically progressive group of men and women and weren’t in the least bothered by the suggestion that you are Christ, too. Or … it was because you weren’t really listening.
Hmm … I suppose there may be a few other reasons for your silence, but I’m going to choose to believe that it’s because you’re an incredibly theologically progressive group of Christians and you are so comfortable with your Christian identity that you are not only able, but willing, to believe and experience the incarnation of the “Holy One” in every impulse of creation – including yourselves! We are the ones we’re waiting for.
Yes? Okay? Okay …
With that being the case, then, we will have no difficulty in making another “incarnational leap” this week as we explore the pre-existent Spirit of God in Mary and Joseph, the parents of the historical Jesus. “God” was not only with Mary and Joseph during the events recorded in our Gospels, but in Mary and Joseph, as parents in this part of the story – as life-givers, as nurturers, as caretakers, and protectors of the Word incarnate in the baby, the child, the teen, the Young Adult who was Jesus and who accepted his responsibility as Christ, as God’s anointed One.
Listen for the Word of God. Read Matthew 1:18-23. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Now, even though last week we were dealing with cosmic realities and mind-bending possibilities, some of which I just reiterated, in a very real way this week’s exploration of Incarnation is fraught with more perils. While last week’s exploration was celestial and universal, this week’s is personal.
Exploring the Incarnation in Jesus’ parents, exploring the pre-existent Spirit of God through parenting, is difficult. Not all of us are parents, by choice or not by choice. Some of us who are parents have experienced the unimaginable – the death of a child, or a grandchild. Or perhaps we have experienced the loss of a child in other ways – through addiction, anger, or estrangement. All of us have, or have had, parents, but those experiences, too, are as varied as each individual here this morning, many positive, but not all, and those that are negative can make it almost impossible to consider the divine as part of an earthly parent. How can we discuss parenting as Incarnational in any universal way?
Ashia sent me something that she was reading last week in a book titled I Am: Teaching Sermons on the Incarnation, by Penelope Duckworth. She’s been exploring this theme for her leadership with our Youth in the early Christmas Eve service. Chapter three of this book opens with a short story that helps to illustrate Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in Luke’s gospel, the visit where ‘the child leaps in Mary’s womb” and Elizabeth claims Mary “blessed among women.” All this just before Mary’s Magnificat, in Luke. We’ve read from Matthew this morning, but the story serves to define “parenthood” for our exploration this morning:
In a shelter for battered and abused children, a small boy of about five was to be placed in a foster home. The woman who ran the house was walking him out to the car to meet his new foster parents when the boy, who had grown to feel very secure in his time at the shelter, asked her, “Will you carry me?” The woman reached down to reassure him and said she thought he was getting a little too big to be carried. The boy responded by saying, “I mean in your heart.” The woman was surprised that the small child spoke so figuratively and told him that she certainly would. As he got nearer the car he said, “Will you remember to kiss me good night?” This time she knew he was not speaking literally and so she said she would; she would remember him each night, and she would carry him in her heart.
This is the understanding of parenthood that we engage this morning. The “incarnational parenting” that every one of us – no matter whether we have earthly children or not, have experienced the unimaginable, or have had good or bad relationships with our own parents – the “incarnational parenting” that every one of us is expected to do as Christian men and women, young and old, no matter how may “Advent waits” we have been through, is about carrying the Christ deep within us and giving birth to that reality in the world.
We have all been visited by angels and charged with birthing the Spirit of God that always been here through our own bodies – hearts and minds and souls. We have been charged with giving life to Love itself, kissing it good night, every night, and carrying it in our hearts every day.
We are asked, like Mother Mary was, to carry the embryonic Christ in our hearts. We are asked, like Father Joseph to make room for this reality in our lives. We are asked, as parents, to prepare a home for the Christ in others so that no one is consigned to a stable. We are asked, like new parents in every age, to have faith – to trust in what we have not seen and to be assured of that which we hope for: Full life and abundant Love.
“In the beginning was the Word” deep within us.
And “we shall name it Emmanuel” birthed from us.
Come and see the Good News of Great Joy which is … all the people. For, the birth of Christ takes place in this way … through us. May it be so.
Pastor Joel Weible, Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / December 9, 2018