Sermons

Sun, Dec 31, 2017

Incarnation as incursion

Series:Sermons

To the average person overseas there's nothing more quintessentially Australian--

or cuter--

than a koala.

And there's nothing that many of them want to do more, when visiting our shores...

than to cuddle one.

So, a few years ago... 

when we posted photos on FaceBook of a youngish koala that had stealthily wandered into our house--

through the open back door, one hot summer evening...

and visited our toilet...

before hopping the small gate across the doorway to our bedroom...

and jumping onto our bed--

we received quite a number of comments from overseas friends...

suggesting on how cute it was and how lucky we were.

And, let's face it... 

if your only experience of koalas is seeing videos of people cuddling them at Cleland...

or observing them from a distance up a tree...

slowly and somnambulantly plucking and chewing gum leaves...

then that's probably what you would think.

But, if you have ever had an experience with wild koalas--

which I did, when I was a vet...

then you would know differently.

Not only do they smell and they are, generally, covered in fleas...

but they can move very quickly.

They can be very tetchy.

And their claws are incredibly strong and incredibly sharp--

which means that they can do a lot of damage if scared and cornered.

So, we were really lucky that night when Liam--

our late Irish Wolfhound-- 

heard the noise in the toilet and took off up the hallway.

We were lucky that I was able to get there only seconds later...

and managed to drag him away from the koala before either of them--

getting over their initial shock--

had the presence of mind to attack the other.

Once trapped in our bedroom...

and, of course, now somewhat agitated...

it piddled on my pillow.

And, let me tell you, koala piddle reeks!

Quietly, slowly, and very carefully I had to enter the bedroom...

remove the flyscreen and open the window--

without startling or scaring it--

then turn off the light and close the door... 

to allow it some space and security to find its own way out.

But the whole scenario could easily have turned very messy...

very quickly.

 

In some ways, Luke's Christmas story is a bit like that.

On the surface-- 

and from a distance--

it seems a quaint, heart-warming tale.

Matthew's story, on the other hand, has quite a hard edge.

In Joseph's response to the news of Mary's pregnancy--

and the reference, in the Greek, to him being an "honourable man"--

there's a clear allusion to a possible honour-killing.

That's followed, then, by the intrigue of the so-called "Wise Men" visiting...

and the diabolical political machinations of King Herod...

who ends up slaughtering all of the baby boys in Bethlehem...

with Joseph, Mary, and Jesus escaping just in the nick of time.

But not so the story in Luke's Gospel.

Its author seems to paint a serene and romantic sort of portrait for his Christmas story--

a simple, rustic setting...

with lots of animals...

humble shepherds...

and angelic choirs.

On the surface, at least, it's a cute, heart-warming, feel-good sort of story--

a story which, of course, has given rise to our nativity scenes and our Christmas carols.

Behind that romantic portrait, the underlying message of the story--

the underlying message of the incarnation--

is that God reaches out to us...

that God comes to us...

metaphorically...

poetically...

existentially... 

embodied in this tiny bundle called Jesus.

The story of the incarnation present us with a God who comes to us...

enfleshed in all of the risks and potentials of human birth.

It presents us with a God who is experienced--

not through power or might or cosmic control...

but in fragility, vulnerability, helplessness, and dependence.

It presents us with a risk-taking, risk-filled God.

And yet, at the same time--

at least on some level--

it also presents us with an image of a cute and cuddly sort of God--

a God who is safe;

a God who, like any new born baby, represents something of a blank canvas--

able to be fleshed out...

able to be shaped and moulded...

able to be taught and influenced.

The flip-side of the incarnation is, in many respects, a God who is somewhat malleable;

a God who is able to be formed into our image...

upholding and reinforcing our values and concerns.

Of course, few of us think of God like that-- 

or respond to God like that-- 

at least not overtly or blatantly.

And yet, most of us, on some level, have a God-construct--

an image of a God-- 

that is safe and predictable...

affirming, comforting, and reassuring.

In some way or another, most of us presume that we know what God is like.

Indeed, many Christians are not afraid to proclaim what is God's "will"--

what God thinks...

what God likes...

and what God wants from us.

 

All of which brings us to this morning's reading--

the story of the presentation of Jesus at the Temple.

Like the birth story in Luke's Gospel, initially it conjures up warm, fuzzy feelings--

loving parents showing off their cute baby publicly for the first time...

strangers goo-ing, and gushing, and saying nice things--

a scene not unlike that of a baby's christening.

But it's not.

The hymn that the author has composed and placed on old Simeon's lips--

traditionally known as the Nunc Dimittis--

is...

or ought to be...

more than a little unsettling.

Certainly the way that the author constructs this story it was for Jesus' parents--

they were "amazed" at what Simeon says about their baby.

And, in that time and that culture, that's not a positive thing at all.

It's more like they were shocked, astonished, even dumbfounded.

Why?

Because the author sounds a note that would have been discordant for any first century Israelite.

He highlights the universality of Jesus and his mission...

suggesting that God's salvation isn't just for the Hebrew people-

as they all assumed or presumed--

but that God's salvation is for all people.

That would have been unthinkable even offensive.

The author is suggesting here that non-Hebrew people are the recipients of God's love and grace...

just as much as the Hebrew people are.

And there's no suggestion that they are required to change... 

or even to 'convert' in order to receive it.

In other words, the author is suggesting here... 

that the birth of Jesus overturns all of their preconceived ideas...

and all of their presumptions... 

about the nature of God and how God relates to humankind.

 

And, if we're honest, that's something with which we have always struggled...

and something with which we continue to struggle even today.

As sociology continually reminds us...

if nothing else, religion is, by nature, conservative.

It inherently serves the dominant ideology and maintains the social status quo.

It has done so throughout history.

It's what politicians demand of it.

It's what so many people--

overtly or inadvertently--

expect or crave from it.

And yet, the author of Luke's Gospel suggests that the incarnation blows that apart--

or... 

that it ought to.

As the great Swiss theologian, Karl Barth once asserted:

"Faith in God's revelation has nothing to do with an ideology which glorifies the status quo".

Powered by: truthengaged