The Rev. Ben Helmer, Vicar
Christmas Day, 2011
St. James’, Eureka Springs
Last night was a time to praise God at the manger, to remember Christmases past and sing the old familiar carols. Today and the twelve days of Christmas are a time to ponder on the meaning of it all.
All of God’s actions can be understood as interventions. If we don’t realize this, we can’t fully understand the meaning of Christmas as adults in the 21st Century. The birth of Jesus, the proclamation of the Angels, the coming of the Magi, are all part of a carefully woven tapestry that mocks the Roman Empire in general and Caesar in particular. The Emperor was considered divine, and there were even cults that believed he was of virgin birth. So, it is no coincidence that the birth of Jesus among us follows a similar pattern with one big difference: the Roman cult around the Emperor was designed to support a reign of power by force; the birth of Jesus brings a new age of peace. All the titles, “wonderful counselor…prince of peace” were applied to Caesar, but they come upon Jesus for a wholly different reason – to change our hearts and minds to love God and worship him, not Caesar.
And so, the intervention that was foretold becomes real; God enters the world as one of us not in domination but in affirmation.
There are immediate implications, and when Herod, the local ruler, learns of Jesus’ birth and the proclamations surrounding it he becomes very nervous, so much so that tradition says he ordered the killing of all boys under the age of two years. Though there is no historical record of the slaughter of the innocents we know it wasn’t long before people were being put to death because of this intervention. Anything that smelled of rebellion would be ruthlessly repressed.
But God triumphs – as God always does – by thwarting the ways of men prohibit us from becoming what we are created to be: children of God, bringers of light, and givers of peace. Therefore, today in his name, we bring intervention into the world of poverty, greed and domination. We dare to speak out against these things not because we are good people, we are not necessarily better than anybody else, but because it is the only response to the world that Christians can offer having first been offered it in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
All of God’s actions can be understood as interventions. All ministry is an intervention. We are often told to be cautious about getting involved in the lives of others…but God was not cautious, quiet, but not cautious. Our caution sometimes results in great and unnecessary suffering. Our failure to bring the presence of God to others is only a demonstration of how we fail to understand the message of the angels and the witness of the shepherds – something new has happened among us; God has come to live with us, and that means there is now light to show us a new way to live without fear or domination over one another. And so we minister to others out of that same light – not just charity or kindness, virtues that can be lived out by anyone, but the ministry of presence, the behavior of intervention because we represent Christ himself wherever we go in his name.
There is much good done at this time of year. The poor are given shelter, the hungry are fed, and abundance overcomes scarcity, at least for a while. But in a few days the world seems almost with relief to return to its ways. That is why we honor the twelve days of Christmas followed by the longer season of Epiphany, the manifestation of God in Jesus. The intervention continues for us, and we continue to be fed by its energy and all that it brings. Though the nations squabble, though the politics of power ignore the needs of many, though the lobbyists decide what will be or not be, we will be true to the story. We will be the people who know the true kingdom and its king. We will be the people who serve the unserved, we will be the ministers who feed others, listen to their needs and humbly try to bind up their broken hearts. And in it all we will be empowered by the birth of this child, the son of God who came into the world. Thanks be to God.