Sermon: The Greatest Story Ever Told

The greatest story ever told invites us to ponder on our true humanity and to ask if we can, at the barest minimum offer even the stable in the inn. The Christmas story is the greatest story ever told-not only for its complication, mystique or the personalities involved, but because the story taps into a long held desire of union with God.


Looking around this holy space, I see ruin and devastation caused by water. But I also see new wooden floors that would be installed beginning on Monday-it tells me that new life can spring out of destruction. Beyond that, our world has been decimated by a virus, rendering us incapable of gathering together as family and a community of faith to celebrate God’s presence among us. But I am thankful for the new vaccines. I hope when you get the chance, you will get vaccinated. The new vaccines inspire me to be hopeful in the face of this human adversity.


Humans have always desired for the divine to be present in our lives. That desire for God to be present in our lives, in our condition, was for God to fill that inherent void and satisfy the emptiness in our lives. Christmas is the greatest story evert told because within this story, we experience a God whose desire hasn’t been about remaking humans into tin-gods, but humans who are fully alive in our humanness and in God that we do not live in the agony of sin and destruction

In his book on Miracles, C.S. Lewis wrote that “The central miracle asserted by the Christian is the incarnation. They say that God became man…If the thing happened, it was the central event in the history of the earth, the very thing the whole story has been about.” [1]


If C.S. Lewis is right, then it is fair to say that without the incarnation, there would be no theology, there would be no story. The incarnation forms the basis of the Christian identity and understanding of God. That is to say that we cannot understand God without the miracle of the incarnation.


In the Christmas story human hopes and fears converge in a little baby boy whose life represents life’s paradox-that a baby who was born as God among men, who in his adult years was considered a pariah, an outsider, would totally transform the responsibilities that we owe to one another and to ourselves. The responsibility that I owe you is what compels me to call you a brother or sister, for our kinship is not based on the will of man or the flesh but by the will of God. The responsibility I owe you compels me to offer you the barest minimum-even the stable, should there be no place in the inn.


The Christmas story is the greatest story ever told because it reminds us of the sacrifice of God. That God who is wholly other, transcendent, boundless in His personhood, and is infinitely good and pure, would set aside the glory of His heaven, and sacrifice that very nature to assume the limitations of people like you and me.


I learned that to wish for something is a substitute for action, and in the incarnation, we don’t experience a God who wished for something different, rather we experience a God who was ready for action, ready to change the human story. And so St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians reiterates the nature of Jesus’ birth. He doesn’t confer any special qualities on Jesus, but states that Jesus was born under the law like any Jewish child, and born of a woman like any human being. In essence, Jesus was not different from us in any way.


In Jesus, God did not supplant human nature nor did He assume a special nature which would have made it impossible for him to deal with the pain, sickness, hurt, disappointment, hunger, tears, thirst, violence, anger or even death- experiences that people deal with on a daily basis. God’s sacrifice of God’s self was a means for God to identify God’s self with us in a way that will renew our hope in each other and ultimately in God.


Christmas is the greatest story ever told because the joy of the incarnation is the renewal of our shared hope in each other and in God-especially during these perilous times.


The prophet Isaiah ponders on God’s redemptive act in the restoration of Jerusalem and rejoices in its new identity. By virtue of the incarnation we have also been restored to newness. For that reason, we can no longer be slaves to sin, nor can we be slaves to the law with its divisiveness and burdensome character. We have been made anew.

Listen to John, to those who received Him, to them He gave power to become children of God, not of the will of man or of the flesh, but the will of God. This particular will of God is synonymous with the grace of God. And because we are now children who have the privilege of being joint heirs with Christ, we acknowledge our joint inheritance with Christ, and affirm that every life has value, even those born in the mangers of our world.


Christmas is the greatest story ever told because it is the story of a new creation-all of God’s creation is made anew in Jesus. John in the gospel story harkens back to the language in Genesis, “In the beginning”, with this language, John refers to the chaotic nature of the world where God turned the chaos of a formless void into an oasis of habitation for humanity. John argues that that same Word which was with God, which is God and with which the world was created, is the same Word which has come to dwell with us. The purpose of the presence of the Word among us was not to recreate the world by changing its composition, but that through the light which overpowers all darkness, we may behold the new thing that God is doing with us and among us-shaping our often formless lives, filling our often empty lives, bringing meaning to our often hopeless lives, pulling us out of the darkened pit of our lives and restoring us from being exiled from Him and from our true selves. The new creation the incarnation ushers is one where the Word which has come to dwell with us will help us unwrap ourselves from the darkness with which we have covered ourselves.


Christmas is the greatest story ever told because it is about the power of the light that shines in the darkest places of our lives. The light reveals to us our true human potential, assures us that our weaknesses are unimportant in God’s eyes, and that we do not have to do anything to earn His love.

The Christmas story brings life to the love of God. If God is love, then His glory most of all shines forth in anything that fully expresses His love. Love loves love, and wherever love is, there you will find the story of redemption, hope, renewal, forgiveness, compassion, justice, peace and transformation. If the first creation story is about the gift of being human, the second creation story realized in the incarnation of Jesus, the greatest story ever told is about the choices we make on a daily basis, and these choices often require us to humbly descend deep into ourselves to find our true humanity. And we do this by asking if we are ever willing to offer the barest minimum, even the stable to the other.


There is always a reason not to find a place in the inn, but Christmas is about whether you can offer the stable. To discover your true self, and to discover God in the process, is to be able to always offer the stable. I wish you a very Merry Christmas.


Amen.


The Reverend Emmanuel Ato Mercer

Christmas Eve

Christ Episcopal Church

Columbia, Maryland

USA

[1] Lewis, C.S. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classic p.398