Merry Christmas! This evening we celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ, which we just heard recounted to us in a wonderful way. This evening we have a mass for Christ, which is where the word “Christmas” comes from: the Christ mass. (I’m glad we have so many people here so that we can have a critical mass for the Christ Mass.)
And we here at Redeemer have been preparing for this Christ Mass for four weeks now. Our preparation season was the season of Advent, which is Latin for “arrival” or “coming.” And we started to prepare for the “arrival” of the Christ child on the first Sunday of Advent when we made Advent wreathes and wrote Christmas cards for our friends at the Tamalpais Retirement community and set up our beloved outdoor Nativity scene. As I was setting up the Nativity set, a young boy passed by on his bicycle and saw me basically hammering a camel into the ground. And he asked, “What are you doing?”
I said, “I’m actually setting up our outdoor Nativity scene.”
And then he asked that wonderful question that kids are wont to ask: “But why?”
“Well,” I said, “Because we are preparing for Christmas and this is a scene depicting the birth of Christ, an event that we celebrate on Christmas”
And then again, he asked, “But why?”
“Well, great question.” I said, “Because we here at Redeemer understand Christ to be the Son of God, who revealed God as a God of love who loves each one of us tremendously. And we want to show our love for God, in return, by celebrating the birth of his Son.”
And then again, “But why?”
I said, “Well, think about it this way, when you have a birthday, your family and your friends gather together to celebrate and shower you with gifts and you get to receive that love in the form of gifts and a party. So when it comes to God, who we believe gave us life in the first place and has given us all the good things in life, we like the idea of having a big celebration for the birthday of his Son to acknowledge how wonderful he is.”
Fortunately, the young boy seemed relatively satisfied with that answer. Either that or he got distracted by something else more interesting to him. But I’ll admit I was still kind of haunted by the possibility that he might again ask me, “But why?” And would I have another answer for him? I will confess that, as a teacher and youth minister, I find that question to be often very annoying (and many parents here might agree). And yet I also find the question to be deeply profound and necessary for wisdom and growth. What if we were to ask ourselves that question as often as our kids do.
Here we are celebrating Christmas together. But why? Why are you here? Here I am a priest, preaching to a congregation, some of whom come to church each Sunday, some who don’t. But why? Why do we come to church? Why do we not come to church? And on another level, here we are citizens of a deeply divided nation. And here we are vulnerable and finite humans living on a fragile earth. But why? Why are we here? Why are you here? Many of us can perhaps answer that question on a superficial level, but when we keep asking the “but why” question and peel away the layers of the onion, what’s at the core?
I still stand by my initial answers to the young boy about the Nativity scene and if I were pushed to answer more “but why” questions about celebrating Christmas, coming to church, being a priest, and even living as a human in general, I would say that I do all these things (including breathing) in order to experience and enjoy God’s love for me. That’s what the church is about and I would say that’s what life is about: finding joy and freedom in our belovedness.
Christ was someone who lived purely out of his belovedness, someone who lived and moved and had his being fully in God’s love for him. And that didn’t mean things were easy for him. His parents couldn’t even get a room in Bethlehem and there was no crib for a bed, as the carol says. But even though he was relegated to a dirty and stinky stable, the Christ child was still able to bathe in his belovedness as his mother and father looked at him with adoring eyes, as shepherds peered in wonder, as angels sang their sweet and heavenly songs, and as God himself shed tears of joy for his beloved child. As Christians, we are all about imitating and identifying with Christ. And at Christmas, that means basking in our belovedness, looking at ourselves through the eyes of those who love us and even adore us, listening to the angels who sing, “Glory to God in the highest” for each of us every day and receiving the unconditional, transformative and liberating love of God.
That’s partly what we are about here at Church of the Redeemer. Redeemer means the one who frees us and we are made free by love, by God’s perfect love which drives out all fear. Christ the Redeemer, whose birthday we celebrate this evening, is the one who invites us to find true joy, hope, adventure and freedom in our belovedness. And these days, we all desperately need hope, peace on earth, good will to everyone. All of these good things spring out of our belovedness. And it is by relaxing in God’s love for us that we discover the answer to all of our “but why” questions. So I invite us all this evening and throughout this Christmas season to take some time to identify with the Christ child by basking in God’s liberating and redeeming love for you. Amen.