(Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:46-55) – J G White
11 am, Advent 4, Sun, Dec 23, 2018 – UBC Digby
Welcome to Christian worship of God, and at Christmastime, even. We have a magnificent Gospel to proclaim! What kind of Good News do we tell now? How do we put the Good Tidings into words? Into our own words? For our people? Today?
Sure, we like to quote Francis of Assisi, who is credited with saying: ‘Preach the gospel at all times; use words when necessary.” In our lives words will be necessary. There is a time to keep silence and a time to speak.
This month I have been talking with you about The Good News of Jesus. It’s my own project I’m sharing, really: how to understand salvation better, and how to say it better. Every age in Christian history has to do this. Every Church and every individual believer must work it out. Not only do we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), we work out how to express it, how to share it, afresh.
To tell the News, the Good News of God, is to tell a story. Tell God’s story – the Bible story. And tell our story. We often wander from one to the other, and back again. We use Bible words in personal ways.
Together here, we recited Mary’s whole song of praise. The Magnificat, it gets called, from it’s old title in Latin. My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour! For He has looked with favour on the lowliness of His servant. (Luke 1:46-48) And so on. She was expecting a special child, and at this point she was visiting her old relative, Elizabeth, who was expecting a special baby of her own. Together they rejoice.
When Mary sings out these words, she is echoing Bible words, reworking an old lyric. In particular, the words of the song of Hannah, from one thousand years earlier, when Hannah was happily expecting a baby, who would be named Samuel.
Mary, in her praises, is telling what she expected about God’s salvation. She does it by celebrating the kinds of things her Lord does.
So Mary says: God takes people’s souls to heaven, after they die. God brings people together to build church buildings with steeples and pulpits and pews. God reunites loved ones in heaven if they do not end up in hell. Ah… No, she doesn’t!
Mary says things like: God scatters proud people. God wrecks powerful people and lifts up weak people. God fills up hungry people, and gives nothing to the rich ones.
It is very practical stuff Mary and Elizabeth celebrate about the Saviour who is about to be born. It seems to be very earthly minded, not so heavenly.
I have one of those magnetic images of a nativity to stick on my car that reads: KEEP CHRIST IN CHRISTMAS. I read this posting on social media:
Want to keep “Christ” in Christmas?
Feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted, love the outcast,
forgive the wrongdoer, inspire the hopeless.
There are plenty of options when it comes to putting the Gospel of Jesus into words. Some proclaiming of it has been what gets called ‘the social gospel,’ a movement that was at its peak about a hundred years ago.
In our lives, South African Bishop, Desmond Tutu, said, “I don’t preach a social gospel; I preach the gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn’t say, ‘Now is that political or social?’ He said, ‘I feed you.’ Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.” (Claiborne, Shane, et al, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, c 2010, p. 71)
Other ways of explaining the Gospel are focused upon individuals and their souls, which could end up in eternal bliss or eternal torment, after death here.
Church planter and author, Brian McLaren, tells of a multi-faith gathering outside of Washington, DC, just a few months after the attacks of September 11, 2001. It was awful, McLaren says. Held at a local mosque, the first speaker, a Sikh from India, insulted the host imam with his first sentence. Next, a Catholic priest was dull, long-winded & academically complicated. A protestant minister was just as monotone, but said that Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw Christ even in Hitler! McLaren wanted to crawl down into a crack in the floor.
Then a Pentecostal pastor spoke, who was very emotional and energetic. He ended up saying: “I love you! I love you all! And because I love you, it is my duty to you, my neighbours, be you Muslims, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, or Buddhist, to tell you that you are all going straight to hell unless you repent and receive Jesus Christ as your personal Lord, Saviour, Healer, and Deliverer!”
The pastor went on for about thirty minutes like this. Then, to Brian McLaren’s shock, he got tremendous applause from when he finished.
McLaren concluded: for him to be himself, to pour out his heart, to unleash his emotion… and to do so in the presence of others of different faiths… that was just the gift people needed in the aftermath of Sept. 11. People needed to cry and shout and vent… And in that very human connection, he communicated real love for the people in the room. (Why Did Jesus, Moses, Mohammed and the Buddha Cross the Road?, 2012, p. )
The communication of real love for others is what Christmas is all about. What the Cross is all about. What Resurrection is all about. You and I find our ways to love others when we tell our stories of God. Our Good Tidings of great joy must be authentic. Real. Genuine. Personal. I don’t recommend ‘fire and brimstone’ unless that is your only way to speak love.
So, I tell people that this Jesus being born is the story of how loved and valuable we are. It is about what’s wrong with me and how God comes to me. It is about what’s wrong in the whole world, and how God loves the whole world. It is also about the fears I have, and can get through with God. It is about pain and suffering, for it is the story of a God who comes deep into pain and suffering. It is a story about making things right, and setting things at peace here. It is about finding my path to take in this life, with a Guide who walks right beside me, not far ahead. It is about belonging in this world, being in community, with a God who is on my side, who is for us, all the way.
How do you tell about the Christ of Christmas?
GO, tell it on the mountain!