While this verse from 2 Corinthians is not usually read on Christmas Day, to me it summarizes the meaning and purpose of Incarnation, of Jesus’ birth.
Many years ago, I remember hearing an old sermon illustration: A farmer went out on a very cold, Christmas morning to feed the birds huddling deep under evergreen branches and in bushes low to the ground. As he flung the seed, the birds scattered and fled, frightened, imagining him to be a predator. The farmer felt for the little ones trying to stay warm and fed in such harsh conditions, and heard himself cry out, “If only I were a bird!” At which point, the Christmas bells from the church in town rang out, and tears streamed down his face.
A little corny maybe, but the words still resound in my heart: “If only I were a bird.”
God’s impulse in risking incarnation, taking on human life and flesh, was an impulse of pure love. The Creator of the Universe wants to undermine our bad theologies of a “God, the predator drone” and wants instead to invite us to feed without fear, to buffer the harshness of life, right the wrongs that oppress and destroy.
Our first Christmas thoughts then are of gratitude and wonder for a self-giving God who risks for love, justice and peace… and invites us to do the same.
What difference could it make to those hurt by judgmental religion, or betrayal in a church context, to have the bad theologies and harmful human practices contradicted, repudiated, overturned? We in MCC know the answer to that question — we have tried, in our own imperfect ways, to embody that answer for decades!
That difference, is of course, why they put Pope Francis on the cover of Time magazine as “man of the year.” A different Pope who wants to be a bird — or rather, who wants to be human, who says incredulously, “Who Am I to Judge?” If Francis has done anything right at all, he has followed a God not limited by religion’s rules and failings. If he can continue to stand outside the Vatican, rather than sheltered by it, he can be an ally to all those calling for faith to be aligned with love and justice, especially for the poor. It may be that those outside, on the margins of any church, need him even more than those within.
The genius of MCC has never been primarily about what we say about sexuality but what we believe about the nature of God, who reconciled us in Christ! A God of love created us, in all our beauty and complexity, including our sexuality — and that God desires, at that first Christmas and now, always, to be nearer to us. To be a God who does not want to inspire terror, but hope. Emmanuel: God one of us, God with us. Today.