Psalm 148; Luke 2:22-40
Rev. Harry Brown
December 27, 2020
Liturgically this is the first Sunday of Christmastide the season when we celebrate the birth of Christ. Until just a couple of days ago we were celebrating Advent when we prepare for Christ’s coming. We know this but in truth, we are already moving on. We are incredibly tired of COVID. The kids and grandkids have already broken some of their new toys. We are contemplating returning the gifts that need to be returned. If we have not started putting the decorations away we are thinking about doing so. Our focus has shifted to the new year that is about to begin and being ready to hit the ground running.
In this context, the scripture lessons this morning are a bit of a surprise for they invite us to stop and praise God rather than rush to get ready for the new year. Indeed, there are many reasons to praise God even in the midst of a COVID pandemic. We can praise God for air to breathe water to drink and food to eat. We can praise God for homes to live in and the freedom we enjoy. We can praise God for our families, and the joy of friendship.
The list of reasons to praise God is virtually endless. The lessons this morning invite us to focus on three of the many reasons to praise God: the greatness of God as revealed in creation, the incredible gift of life, and the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Psalmist invites creation the heavens the angels and all God’s hosts to praise God. Sun and moon and the stars are to praise God. The sea monsters and weather the mountains and hills, the trees and wild animals and birds and even insects are to praise God. Kings and all people, men and women, the young and the old are to praise God.
Indeed, we know that we are to praise God, and we do. But I suspect that our view of God is nowhere near big enough. This is particularly true when we consider the universe which God has created. The size of the universe is simply mind-boggling. Scientists estimate that the visible inverse is 93 billion light-years across. The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second. To try to get a perspective on this, the moon is approximately 250,000 miles from the earth. Light covers that distance in less than 2 seconds. In a minute at the speed of light, you would cover 669,600,000 miles. In a 24-hour day, light travels far enough that my calculator can’t display the distance and goes into scientific notation 1.60704e10. In a year, light travels approximately 6 trillion miles. In a billion years in round figures, light travels 6 with 21 zeros behind it. In 93 billion light-years in round figures light travels approximately 6 with 23 zeros behind it. That is a distance and a size that is really beyond our ability to comprehend. Yet God in God’s grace and glory has created all of it. God is great beyond our wildest imaginings.
To get an idea of the size and splendor of God’s creation I would encourage you this afternoon to look up pictures of the universe from the Hubble telescope. As you look at them, consider that those of us alive right now are the first human beings to see these things in this detail and these images only scratch the surface of the greatness and enormity of God’s creation and thus the greatness of God. Indeed, God is great and greatly to be praised.
But God is not just bigger than we can truly conceive. God is in the smallest details of creation and of our lives. Consider the human genome. A genome is the complete set of DNA, the chemical compound that contains the genetic instructions needed to develop and direct the activities of every organism. The human genome contains approximately 3 billion of these base pairs, which reside in the 23 pairs of chromosomes within the nucleus of all our cells. Each chromosome contains hundreds to thousands of genes, which carry the instructions for making proteins.
When you consider that scientists estimate that the human body is made up of 32.7 trillion cells and that each of those cells contains these 23 pairs of chromosomes and the complex genetic information they contain, you begin to grasp the complexity of our creation as human beings. God is great incredibly great far beyond our ability to fully grasp and thus to be greatly praised.
The second thing we are to praise God for is the incredible gift of life. The gift of our lives is as the human genome makes clear an incredibly complex and intricate gift. Genesis tells us that God created us in the image of God. Not only does God give us life God gives us everything necessary to sustain life. God gives us air to breathe. Air which has just the right amount of oxygen to sustain us. God gives us water to drink and to wash with. The ecosystem of the planet continually replenishes that freshwater. Through the ecosystems that God created, we are given food to eat that our lives might be sustained. Through that same ecosystem, God has provided the elements with which we can provide shelter for ourselves.
One of the greatest gifts God has given us is the gift of procreation. God entrusts us with the ability to bring life into the world. Part of the evidence for God’s incredible wisdom is that God places us in families at least until we are partially capable of caring for ourselves. Obviously, there are great differences between families and in the ways that families prepare children for life in the world but even when it is imperfect it is there that we learn to love and care for others. It is there that we begin to learn the value of community and cooperation that together we can accomplish things that we could never do alone. It is in families that we begin to learn the difference between right and wrong that enables us to live as civilized societies.
God has given us minds capable of incredible learning including the ability to communicate with each other. One of the greatest blessings we enjoy is the gift of spoken and written language. It is in large part these gifts that enable the technological and medical advances that both sustain and enrich our lives, that enable us to create a vaccine to stop the pandemic that is ravaging the world.
God has created us very similar and yet with incredible diversity. Not only are there different races and languages, but we also have incredibly diverse gifts that we bring to the world. Some have the gift of music that can lift our spirits and cause them to soar. Others have an artistic ability that enables them to create things of great beauty. Others have mechanical aptitude. They simply look at something and immediately understand how it works or is supposed to work. Still, others have great emotional intelligence and know-how to bring healing where there is a deep hurt and how to bring peace where there is division and conflict.
God gives us the incredible gift of life and then God invites us to take part in caring for God’s creation. Genesis and many other places in scripture make it clear that we are to care for and nurture creation. To make our lives truly rich, God invites us to participate in God’s work in the world. Throughout the scriptures, God consistently shows special concern for the poor and outcast. Thus, we are to praise God by making God’s rule in the world real by doing justice, loving-kindness, and walking humbly with our God. We are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us and paradoxically, when we do, instead of losing our lives, we find them and that life is rich and fulfilling beyond our wildest dreams.
Praise God. God is great beyond our wildest imaginings. Praise God for the incredible intricate gift of life. Even in the midst of our grief at the loss of life the pandemic is causing, we need to praise God that nothing can separate us from the love and grace of God. Praise God for the sheer enormity of creation and its awe-inspiring complexity. God is great beyond our wildest dreams. As awe-inspiring as all of this is, the greatest reason to praise God is the incredible gift of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Christ God became one of us to forgive our sins and teach us how to live fully human lives.
Christmas is far more than a sentimental once a year holiday when people go on their best behavior for a few days before things go back to normal. As God revealed to Simeon and Anna in the gospel lesson the birth of Christ is God bringing God’s salvation to the world. Christmas is the story of the radical coming of our incredibly great God into the world where we live, a world where there are way and famine, political unrest, injustice, poverty, illness, hatred, jealousy, and greed. A world where there is both the fear of change and the longing that things might be different.
Christmas is far more than the babe in the manger. Christmas is the celebration of the incarnation. In the flesh and blood human being Jesus of Nazareth, God himself was uniquely present in the world. Jesus is far more than a great teacher of the way to a happy successful life. He is much more than a great moral example for us to follow. He is far more than simply the founder of the Church. To encounter Jesus, to come to know him is to encounter and know God Almighty. The ordinary processes of life simply can’t explain Jesus. The only possible explanation is that he is the son of God.
To quote Shirley Guthrie, “Christmas means the deity of the man Jesus: he is God with us.” But it also means the humanity of God. Our incredible God stoops to and identifies himself with the cause of humanity by himself becoming a human being. God didn’t reveal himself to us as some kind of movie superhero but as a flesh and blood human being. In doing so, God again put God’s stamp of approval on human life. Christmas means that what God wills is not just the salvation of our souls but the renewal of our flesh and blood humanity that we might become all that we are created to be.
Christmas means the exultation of human life but it also means at least from our perspective the humiliation of God. Christmas means that God is not too proud to leave the splendor of heaven and participate in everyday human life. God does not sacrifice God’s divine power in participating in earthly human life. Rather Christmas means that God accomplishes God’s will in weakness as well as strength, by sacrificing himself fa well exercising his power. Christmas means the almighty creator of the universe, this incredibly great God stooping down to become one of us. If we really want to see what Christmas means, if we want to see Christ at work we need to look out at the margins of society among the poor and oppressed those labeled as sinner or outcasts for that is where his work is most obvious just as that is where it was most obvious during his physical life.
Even in the midst of COVID and all the pain it has and is causing, even in the midst of the political unrest we are experiencing, even in the midst of the economic downturn and the pain of unemployment there is so much to praise God for. God the creator of the universe is bigger and greater than our wildest imaginings. This incredible God has given us the wonderfully complex gift of life, the ability to learn to communicate and to participate with God as co-creators. And best of all, God has given us the gift of God’s self in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ that we might by grace through faith become the human beings God intends us to be. Glory be to God Almighty.