Sermon: Loving Creation

Our image of God needed to change. In fact, God needed to change. God’s love could not live in a perfect place that was inaccessible to us. For God’s love to be real and meaningful, … God had to become human. God had to become one of us.

the_family-large-john-d-batten-1886
“The Family” by John D. Batten (1886)

The Gospels tell us a lot of things about what Mary must have gone through because of her pregnancy.  She left town and stayed with her Cousin Elizabeth for months, probably to escape public shaming for being an unwed mother. Matthew tells us that Joseph could have abandoned her, but didn’t.

And, shortly before Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph had to take a long trip. Mary, at full term, bounced up and down on that (d****d!) donkey all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  They hoped their poverty would discourage robbers. And when they get there, there is no room at the Inn, so they have to stay in a stable.

Then, after the birth, Herod wants to kill them! They had to flee into exile.  They became refugees. Once it is safe to return, they settle in Nazareth. But, it is a hard life: many there believed Mary had been unfaithful. And, because of that “sin,” Mary and her son were not looked-on kindly or with compassion; and we see hints of that throughout the Gospels.

Joseph is said to have been a Carpenter, but a more correct term might be “Day Laborer.” He probably walked several miles every morning from Nazareth in the hills down to Sepphoris, a city being built as the new capitol of  Galilee at the time. Once there, he hung out at the local equivalent of Dunkin’ Donuts: hoping someone would hire him to haul rocks and lumber, or perhaps saw wood for the day. It was a hard life: exhausting, dangerous work; harsh overseers; long hours; terrible pay andno job security. …Not unlike the lives of many of our friends and neighbors here and now.

Joseph was a good man, and like so many people back then (and now) he did what he had to do to survive and provide for his family. His grim situation was common throughout Galilee at the time. Rich foreigners were moving in: confiscating farms; forcing families like the family of Joseph and Mary into poverty. Their fields became vineyards. The people were being taxed beyond reason. Huge villas were being built on those country estates, their absentee owners were living in luxury in cities like Sepphoris, which were built on the backs of men such as Joseph.

There was no hope for the future. Rome and its vassals controlled Judea and Galilee; and the Jews, especially the people in the countryside, starved and suffered. Life for the poor was short, and painful, and brutal.

What does this have to do with Christmas? The Bible teaches us that Christ’s birth marks the moment when God manifested among us; becoming Emmanuel, “God with us,” walking the earth alongside us. It began there in Galilee among the poor and dispossessed. God became fully human; but was still, and at the same time, fully divine.

What does this mean for us now, in this world where nothing seems to be going right? We too are constantly battling to survive, and grieving our losses. We fight for a good life. Yet, no matter what we do, we know it will end in death: the death of those dear to us, the death of everything that matters to us, and ultimately our own death. How can we possibly be joyful when the end of our story is already known, and inescapable, and depressing, and  futile? Why is it important that God became a human being?

The other day, while pondering this and sharing my thoughts with others, someone asked me “Why is it so important that God was not human [to begin with]?”  

Good question!

I’ll tell you.

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Why Isn’t Jesus a Girl?

The point of this exercise is to challenge our preconceptions of what Jesus must have been like: Why do we think he is male, and why do we assume Jesus is just like us?

Slide1This particular discussion was inspired by this (admittedly facetious) blogpost entitled “Where Would Jesus Pee?”

In it, Andrew Seidel raises an interesting point:  Jesus had a biological mother, but no biological father.  Therefore, even if the Holy Spirit intervened to cause Mary to become pregnant, all of the genetic material was from his mother.

Now, a person of female gender has two X chromosomes (XX) while a person of male gender has an X and a Y (XY).   The gender of their child is determined by which chromosome they get from the father – either the X or the Y.  But, since Jesus has no biological father, then all of his genetic material would come from Mary, meaning he got an “X” instead of a “Y” and so must be female.

I recently presented this as part of our church’s “Message for All Ages” (being very careful of how I presented it, given that grammar school aged children were present).  Then asked the question, “So, what do you think; why isn’t Jesus a Girl?”

As you can imagine, this produced some amazing facial expressions (and answers) from kids and adults like!

The point of this exercise is to challenge our preconceptions of what Jesus must have been like: How can we be sure he was genetically male, or even that he presented himself as a typical male, for that matter?  Why do we assume Jesus is just like us?

Continue reading “Why Isn’t Jesus a Girl?”

Be Holy (Redux)

sistine-chapel-ceiling-creation-of-adam-1510I’ve had a few thoughts since my recent post on Leviticus 19 and “Being Holy” on the nature of Holiness…

First, as I discussed in that post, “Being Holy” is a process.  A process implies that changes are happening as a result of that process.  So, when God says “You shall be Holy for I am Holy.”  … God is changed by the practice of being Holy, just as we will be changed.

This makes sense from a second point of view, which is that Holiness, based on the commands in Leviticus 19, is about having healthy relationships.  In other words, being Holy requires relationship.  This makes perfect sense to Christians, since the whole point of Christ walking here on earth as one of us was to bring each and every one of us into closer relationship with God.  Christ, after all, was prophesied as being “Emmanuel” – “God with Us” (Matthew 1:23).

Third, relationship is not a one way street.  Relationships change both parties.  If not, it would be a one way interaction, such as a child might have with a doll – such a relationship might change us, but it sure doesn’t change the doll!  Such is not a full relationship, but only a partial or truncated one.

So, when God says “You shall be Holy for I am Holy” in Leviticus 19:2.  It means Holiness is a two way thing.  We are Holy because we are in relationship with God – You shall be Holy for I am Holy” – and that Holy relationship changes the both of us for the better.

Holiness and relationship both require that God is vulnerable to us, just as we are vulnerable to God – and what could be a greater demonstration of this than Jesus’ death on the cross?  Or Jesus as a babe, completely dependent upon his parents for sustenance and support?  It would seem, then, that being vulnerable isn’t such a bad thing, it leaves our hearts open for change, and deeper and more meaningful relationships with others.

The Bible asks us to be open to God and God’s movement within our spirits.  That movement is a two way street, and that is what is at the heart of being Holy.

Be Holy!

Copyright (c) 2014, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or gaining) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site).