December 24, 2013

Christ Child's Play

We are called to welcome Christ, yet how often is he left out, outside in the cold in the feed-trough?

SJF • Christmas Eve 2013• Tobias Haller BSG
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.+

And so we come once again to this holy night, as the old song says, the night when the Savior was born. We hear the story as the historian Luke tells it, fixing the date by means of names of the rulers — that’s how people kept track of things in those days before we had B.C. and A.D., they referred to the politicians in office at the time, emperor and governor. Luke fixes the place by naming the towns and the regions: from Nazareth in Galilee on down to Bethlehem of Judea. And he pins down the people on the basis of their heritage — descended from the house and family of David. Nowadays we would call them Davidsons, of which this parish had its share in its early days, and for whom Davidson Avenue just a block to the east is named. History can teach you some unusual lessons!

So we gather here, in the first year of the second term of the presidency of Barack I, during the governorship of Cuomo son of Cuomo, in the church of Saint James on the road named for Jerome of Brooklyn and the Bronx, nigh unto Davidson Avenue. We, like the shepherds of old, are gathered to welcome a child; a promised child, who had been spoken of hundreds of years before he was born, and has been spoken of every Christmas since. This is the child of whom Isaiah spoke, the child who has been born for us, the son given to us; upon whose shoulders rests the authority of God, and to whom is given that powerful, wonderful, mighty, everlasting and royal name.

But let us not forget he is still a child — a newborn child; born in the cold season, in an uncomfortable place; wrapped to keep him as warm as possible, but placed in a feeding trough instead of a cradle, because there was no room for them in the inn. A child has been born to us; but where do we put him?

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I spoke this past Sunday about how we ought to welcome Christ and the grace he brings. As the hymn says, we are to “fling wide the portals of our hearts” to welcome Jesus in, to welcome his gracious entry into our hearts. And yet how often is he left out, outside in the cold in the feed-trough? We might hope to say, well we would never do that! But remember how he said, as you have done to the least of these you have done it unto me?

I could remind you that just the other day a man threw his three-year-old son of the roof of a building, and then jumped to his death himself. I could tell you that earlier today in the fantastic slums built upon and around the city dump in São Paulo Brazil, a little boy was picking over the few items he rescued from that stinking, dangerous, poisonous garbage pile, those few torn and tattered things which he can trade for a few cents. I could tell you that earlier today somewhere in Soweto there was a young girl, 9years old, moaning quietly and weeping on her cot as she tried to fall asleep and forget the pain and hurt and abuse she suffered when her uncle raped her, because he believed the fable that sleeping with a virgin would cure him of AIDS. I could tell you that even as I speak a 12-year-old boy in the suburbs of Denver Colorado holds his father’s unguarded handgun in his hands, ready in a moment to end the interminable bullying he has suffered by putting an end to his short, miserable life. I could tell you countless such stories; stories that show what this world too often does to children. After all, it is so terribly easy to say, “We would never send a newborn child off to sleep in a feed-trough.”

Nor was it different back then — not only was this special child Jesus born in a barn and laid in a feed-trough, but in short order the king sent shock troops to the town to kill him; and just to be sure they killed all the little boys in the village. Some things haven’t changed. Syria and the Sudan have taught us nothing new about genocide. There is nothing new about horror and abuse and poverty and tyranny.

It has been said that you can judge a society on the basis of how it treats its children — well, maybe other people’s children. How would our world be judged against the world into which Christ was born? Is it really any better, for all our advances? Will it stand well in the judgment? For believe you me, it will be judged, and by that same Christ! He will have all the experience he needs to judge just how well this world has done in welcoming him, compared to how well he was welcomed in the days of Augustus and Quirinius in the city of David called Bethlehem. Beware the judgment of this child; beware the wrath of the Lamb.

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But my! What a heavy message for Christmas! And it would be if I left us there; but there is good news in all of this, even if we have to hear those unpleasant truths first to get there. The good news is that the child born in the stable and laid in the manger is still with us. And he is mighty, he is wonderful, he is everlasting, and he is the Prince of peace. He is our Savior — and if we have failed to open the portals of our hearts to invite him in, he will not give up on us yet. Christ the Child will stand outside and knock, and call us to come out to him. He has the unparalleled patience of a child and a voice just as piercing! And remember that he not only said “as you have done to the least of these you have done to me” — he also said, “anyone who does not come to the kingdom of heaven as a child cannot enter it” and “You must be born again.”

He comes to us as a child, and calls us forth as children — and if we cannot open our adult hearts to let him in, he will help us to open our hearts so that we can go out and be born again, so that we can come out to be with him as children once again, out into the world where we can join with all of our brothers and sisters.

Jesus the Christ Child stands at the doors of our hearts and calls out in the bright voice of the child, “Can you come out to play?” His voice is so strong and clear he can call even to those who have been laid low by the sleep of death itself, a voice so powerful that it can not only wake the dead but call them forth, “Can Lazarus come out to play? Can Monica come out to play? Can Rosetta come out to play? Can Russell? Can Charles, and Sarah, and Diamond and Raquel? He is calling us, calling us all forth, this wonderful, mighty child! He is calling us forth to be born again, to be rejuvenated and restored to the innocence of children, to play with him, tonight, and every night and day.

But, be warned, this is no ordinary child’s play — this is the serious and earnest play that children play when they are most intent. They play with strict rules, children do: and among the most important is that the game can not begin until all of God’s children are gathered together. And the children will come streaming from the city dumps of São Paulo and Mexico City; they will come in procession from the South Bronx and Newark and Appalachia and Darfur; they will come in solemn procession from Newtown and Damascus; they will come running as fast as their little feet can carry them from the smokey toil of factories, from the backbreaking work of the pit-mines, from the slums, and from the cemeteries. And only when all of God’s children are gathered together — all of God’s children, from every family under heaven and on earth; from every place and every time — only then will the great game begin. Then, and only then, will the song the angels sang come true in earnest — true peace on earth, to all united in Godly wills.

So harken, my sisters and brothers, to the voice of the Christ Child when he knocks at the doors of your heart. Be born again, become a child, accept his invitation. Turn not that Child away, but join him in that newborn world; go forth and join him in his gracious play.+

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