God’s Daring Plan
Christmas Day 2018

It’s not breaking news this time of year—that it’s a season for gift-giving. Faith isn’t a prerequisite for participation. The crowds at the malls are proof enough for that. But it’s not just a season for gift-giving. It’s also a season for storytelling. You already know that. It’s why you’re here—you’ve braved the cold temps and the comfort of home to gather in this space, to hear a particular story that draws you into the presence of God. It’s a story for you that includes you and that changes you. The story gets told in a variety of ways.

Even our first reading makes reference to that: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways.” There’s a sense of urgency that the author’s audience does not forget the story of what God has done and what God is doing. The writer recounts throughout the letter, story after story from the OT, hoping to instill a deep connection to the story of God encountered in Jesus Christ—not just for them but for their ancestors too. And we hear another kind of telling in John’s Gospel.

John tells the story very differently than the other gospel writers: forget the angels who appear out of nowhere, the no vacancy sign, the animals in the barn and the shepherds out in the field doing their thing. John gives us a poem. In John’s telling, The Word, not only was with God but is the same being as God, this Word became flesh and lived among us. Jesus is how God chooses to speak to all creation. This is how John chooses to tell the story that changed the world forever; that changes the world for good: Jesus is God’s resounding, everlasting YES to the world. Jesus is God’s resounding, ever-lasting YES to you!

The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.
This is one way, a beautiful way, to tell the story of what God is up to in the world. The preacher Barbara Brown Taylor tells it another way. It’s a way of telling the story that I hope will help you hear it in yet a new way on this Christmas Day:

God’s Daring Plan by Barbara Brown Taylor:

“Once upon a time—or before time, actually, before there were clocks or calendars or Christmas trees—God was all there was. No one knows anything about that time because no one was there to know it, but somewhere in the middle of that time before time, God decided to make a world. Maybe God was bored or maybe God just liked to make things and thought it was time to try something big. Whatever the reason, God made a world—this world –and filled it with the most astonishing things: with humpback whales that sing and white-striped skunks that stink and birds with more colors on them than a box of Crayola crayons. And at the end when God stood back and looked at all he created, God was pleased.

Only something was missing. God could not think what it was at first, but slowly it became clear. Everything God had made was interesting and gorgeous and it all fit together really well, only there was nothing in the world that looked like God, exactly. It was as if God had painted this huge masterpiece and then forgotten to sign it, so God got busy making… something in God’s own image, so that anyone who looked at it would know who the artist was. God had one single thing in mind at first, but as God worked God realized that one thing all by itself was not the kind of statement God wanted to make. God knew what it was like to be alone, and now that God had made a world God knew what it was like to have company, and company was definitely better. So God decided to make two things instead of one, two things which were alike but different, and both would be reflections of God. God chose to make them out flesh and blood—a wonderful medium, extremely flexible and warm to touch. Since God, strictly speaking, was not made out of anything at all, but was pure mind, pure spirit, God was very taken with flesh and blood. God enjoyed watching them stretch and yawn, laugh and run. God knew they were fragile, but their very breakability made them more endearing somehow…

It almost broke God’s heart when they got together behind God’s back, did the one thing God had asked them not to do and then hid! While God searched the garden until way past dark, calling their names over and over again. Things were different after that. God still loved the human creatures best of all, but the attraction was not mutual. Birds were crazy about God. Dolphins and raccoons could not get enough of God, but human beings had other things on their minds. They were busy learning how to make things, grow things, buy things, sell things, and the more they learned to do for themselves, the less they depended on God. Night after night God threw pebbles at their windows, inviting them to go for a walk, but they said they were sorry, they were busy.

It was not long before most human beings forgot all about God. They called themselves “self-made” men and women, as if that were a plus and not a minus. They honestly believed they had created themselves, and they liked the result so much that they divided themselves into groups of people who looked, thought, and talked alike. Those who still believed in God drew pictures of God that looked just like them, and that made it easier for them to turn away from the people who were different. You would not believe the trouble this got them into: everything from armed warfare to cities split right down the middle, with one kind of people living on that side of the line and another kind on the other.

God would have put a stop to it all right there, except for one thing. When God had made human beings, God had made them free. That was built into them just like their hearts and brains were, and even God could not take it back without killing them. So God left them free, and it almost killed God to see what they were doing to each other.

God shouted to them from the sidelines, using every means he could thing of, including floods, famines, messengers, and manna. God got inside people’s dreams, and if that did not work God woke them up in the middle of the night with…whispering. No matter what God tried, however, God came up against the barriers of flesh and blood. They were made of it and God was not, which made translation difficult. God would say, “Please stop before you destroy yourselves!” but all they could hear was thunder. God would say, “I love you as much now as the day I made you,” but all they could hear was a loon calling across the water.

Babies were the exception to this sad state of affairs. While their parents were all but deaf to God’s messages, babies did not have any trouble hearing God at all. They laughed at God’s jokes. They cried with him when he cried—all of which went right over their parents’ heads. “Colic,” the grown-ups would say, or “Isn’t she cute? She’s laughing at the dust mites in the sunlight.” Only she wasn’t, of course. She was laughing because God had just told her it was cleaning day in heaven, and that what she saw were fallen stars the angels were shaking from their feather dusters.

Babies did not go to war. They never made hate speeches or littered or refused to play with each other because they belonged to different political parties. They depended on other people for everything necessary to their lives and a phrase like “self-made babies” would have made them laugh until their bellies hurt. While no one asked their opinions about anything that mattered (which would have been a smart thing to do), almost everyone seemed to love them, and that gave God an idea.

Why not become one of these delightful creatures?

God tried the idea out on his cabinet of archangels and at first they were all very quiet. Finally, the senior archangel stepped forward to speak for all of them. He told God how much they would worry. God would be putting himself at the mercy of the creatures, the angel said. People could do anything they wanted to God, and if God seriously meant to become one of them there would be no escape if things turned sour. Could he at least create himself as a magical baby with special powers? It would not take much—just the power to become invisible, maybe, or the power to hurl bolts of lightning if the need arose. The baby idea was a stroke of genius, the angel said, it really was, but it lacked adequate safety features.

God thanked the archangels for their concern but said no, God would just be a regular baby. How else could God gain the trust of the creatures? How else could God persuade them that God knew their lives inside out, unless he lived one like theirs? There was a risk. God knew that. Okay, there was a high risk, but [God wanted the creatures to know that God was willing to risk everything to get close to them, in hopes that they might love God again.

It was a daring plan, but once the angels saw that God was dead set on it, they broke into applause—not the uproarious kind but the steady kind that goes on and on when you have witnessed something you know you will never see again.

While they were still clapping, God turned around and left the cabinet chamber, shedding his robes as he went. The angels watched as his midnight blue mantle fell to the floor, so that all the stars on it collapsed in a heap. Then a strange thing happened. Where the robes had fallen, the floor melted and opened up to reveal a scrubby brown pasture speckled with sheep and –right in the middle of them—a bunch of shepherds sitting around a campfire drinking wine out of a skin. It was hard to say who was more startled, the shepherds or the angels, but as the shepherds looked up at them, the angels pushed their senior member to the edge of the hole. Looking down at the human beings who were all trying to hide behind each other, the angel said in as gentle a voice as he could muster, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

And away up the hill, from the direction of town, came the sound of a newborn baby’s cry.