The Power of the Powerless

Philippians 2:1-5
December 24, 2017
Union University Church
Reverend Laurie DeMott

At Christmas time, we tell stories of shepherds and angels, of stars and magi, and of stables and cattle a-lowing, and every year, news magazines run articles that evaluate the historicity of the nativity story. Astronomers discuss whether the star of Bethlehem might have been a supernova or a particular alignment of planets that sent the magi scurrying to Judea to check out the prophetic implications. Theologians debate whether the virgin birth was real or a Christianized version of cultural myths, and archaeologists try to find evidence for stables in Bethlehem. I believe, however, that if you get hung up on whether all of these details are historical or not, you are missing the point of the story. These most beloved details to our nativity story are really just trimmings there to call our attention to the central meaning of this day which is that God’s chosen son was born into the world in the same way that we all begin this journey — as a baby dependent on the care of others. He wasn’t a superhero who could change the course of mighty rivers and bend steel in his bare hands, nor was he even an overly special human being: he had no political clout, no wealth, no military might. Whether as a baby lying in his mother’s arms or as a grown man tramping the dusty streets of Galilee, Jesus never embodied the kind of status and power that we in the world value and celebrate, and yet the Christmas story tells us that this most ordinary man with nothing particular to commend him could save us.

In other words, when God saw that we in our human frailty and suffering needed a way to make sense of our world and redeem our hearts from our pain and doubt and suffering, God chose to save us through meekness instead of strength, through humility instead of a blustering authority, through mercy instead of a clenched fist, through the messiness of community instead of the oppression of certainty and exclusion — God chose to save us through the simplicity of love.

I will make the bold claim right now that you don’t have to believe a single part of the nativity story to accept the message of Christmas. Whether there were stars and shepherds and angels and kings at his birth, or whether Jesus was born in a most ordinary way in a tiny house in Nazareth, the central proclamation of Christmas is that simple love is more powerful than anything else in the world and to find the redemption we seek, all we have to do is trust in love. We need to honor it, keep it, live it, insist on it, and trust that love will triumph in the end. The world will keep trying to get us to trust in anything but love — it will promote military strength as the avenue to salvation. It will feed our fear of those who are different from ourselves and tell us that safety lies in bigger fences and stronger walls. It will tell us to trust in the authority of the powerful or listen only to the privileged. It will tempt us to shut our doors tight, crawl into our protective shells, and give up hope on everyone but ourselves. Christmas, however, proclaims that the world is wrong and that none of its fear drenched paths can possibly deliver the salvation that we so need. And if you take that message seriously — if you insist on pursuing peace with others in your life, and persist in the belief that love trumps hate no matter how resistant the world remains then the details of the nativity story don’t matter. In fact, the person who embraces that message in their lives is closer to Christmas than the person who decks their halls with a thousand creches but remains unchanged in their heart because if Christmas doesn’t change you, then Christ came in vain.

As Jake Parker said, “How do you save a planet that’s hellbent on destroying itself from the inside out? You save it by inspiring its people to save one another.” God sent Christ to save us by showing us the path of salvation — the way of peace, mercy, grace to one another, and love for all people. Or in the words of the apostle Paul, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

The message of Christmas is incredibly simple — love others, whoever they are, no matter how different they are from you, no matter how difficult they are to love, wherever you are, in all times, and in all circumstances. And the message of Christmas is incredibly difficult — love others, whoever they are, no matter how different they are from you, no matter how difficult they are to love, wherever you are, in all times, and in all circumstances. Christ was born into the world so that he might be born into our hearts and that the same mind may be in us that was in Christ Jesus.

And if we trust in the proclamation of Christmas and truly let it change us, we in turn will have the power to change the world.