Saturday, December 25, 2010

The God-Bearers

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Gainesville, FL
December 25, 2010

Christmas Day
Isaiah 62:6-12
Psalm 97
Titus 3:4-7
Luke 2:1-20

The God-Bearers

Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas Eve and that this joyous morning is off to a great start.

I’m sure many of you have special Christmas traditions – certain foods that you prepare or eat, certain music you listen to or sing along with. Maybe there’s some special Christmas clothing you wear. Many families have Christmas decorations that have been passed down for a generation or two, or even longer.

When I was growing up, my sister and I had the tradition of getting up really early on Christmas morning to discover what gifts had been left under the Christmas tree. Maybe you did the same thing. This tradition wasn’t so popular with our parents, I guess, who sat with us bleary-eyed, watching us open our gifts.

Here in church, of course, there are lots of Christmas traditions, ranging from the hymns we sing to the prayers we say to the flowers we place around our sanctuary.

One beloved Christmas tradition in many churches is the Christmas pageant when the children act out the great drama of Christ’s birth. Some children get to wear angel wings. One child gets to carry the star. Others get to dress up as shepherds or wise men from the East. One little boy gets to be Joseph, our Lord’s adopted father. And one little girl gets to be the Virgin Mary, the young woman who is at the center of the events leading up to Jesus’ birth.

Last Friday the children of our day school put on their Christmas pageant right here in church. It was wonderful seeing the kids in their costumes, the teachers coaching them and prompting them, and the parents and grandparents filled with joy and wonder.

The little girl who played Mary was just amazing. I mentioned in my sermon last night how she looked so solemn carrying her baby doll Jesus, as she and the boy playing Joseph made their way up the center aisle.

With her simple dignity, this little girl captured the essence of Mary, the young woman who said yes to the awesome responsibility of carrying the Son of God into the world.

With her simple dignity, this little girl captured the essence of Mary, the young woman who, after giving birth in the humblest of circumstances, received both shepherds and wise men. And, as Luke tells us, Mary pondered it all in her heart.

By the Third Century, Christians had done a lot of pondering and praying about Mary and her unique and awesome responsibility of carrying the Son of God into the world. Greek-speaking Christians coined a new name, a new title, for Mary: theotokos, the God-bearer.

Those early Christians recognized and celebrated Mary as the bearer of God. For the nine months of her pregnancy Mary carried the Son of God within her body and on that first Christmas, she bore the Son of God into the world – into the same, messy, dangerous and yet beautiful world where you and I live.

Mary is theotokos, the God-bearer.

During the Christmas pageant, there was a little crib set up right here under the pulpit. When Mary and Joseph made their way up here, Mary very carefully, tenderly, and, yes, solemnly, placed her baby doll Jesus into the crib.

Once Jesus was settled in his crib, then the drama featuring angels and shepherds and wise men and wonderful music unfolded before us.

Then before we knew it the pageant was over. The parents and grandparents were congratulating the children and their teachers. Photos of cute kids in cute costumes were being taken.

As things were wrapping up, the little girl who had played Mary took a few steps away from the crib, ready to get on with the rest of her day. Suddenly she stopped, took a few steps back, reached into the crib, and took out her baby doll Jesus. Then she made her way out of the church, carrying Jesus out into the world.

As I thought about that amazing little scene, I realized that in this post-pageant moment the little girl had captured something else essential about Mary. She didn’t stop being theotokos – she didn’t stop being the God-bearer when the months of her pregnancy were over.

Mary continued to be the God-bearer during Jesus’ childhood. Mary continued to be the God-bearer when Jesus began to teach and to heal and began to get in trouble with the authorities.

Mary continued to be the God-bearer at the foot of the cross.

And after the resurrection, I’m sure Mary continued to be the God-bearer as she witnessed to all that she had experienced and had pondered in her heart long ago. Mary continued to be the God-bearer as she told others about the great things the Mighty One had done for her and for all of humanity.

I’m sure Mary continued to be the God-bearer for the rest of her life. But, by then, she wasn’t alone. All of those whose lives had been transformed by their encounter with Jesus had now become God-bearers, too.

All of the people who formed the Body of Christ here on earth became God-bearers.

And what was true in the First Century among the first followers of Jesus is equally true for us now in the Twenty-First Century.

You and I are the Body of Christ here and now. You and I are today’s God-bearers.

And just like the little girl playing Mary who remembered to carry her baby doll Jesus out into the world, so too, you and I need to remember that we are to carry Jesus – we are to be God-bearers – when we walk through the church doors and out into Gainesville, out into the world.

To be a God-bearer means to be like Mary. To be a God-bearer means to love God and to love God’s people.

To be a God-bearer means to give our lives in service to Jesus, the Son of God. Today on Christmas we celebrate that Mary was willing to be theotokos – to be the God-bearer – willing to bring the Son of God into the world.

And today on Christmas we also celebrate that today in this messy, dangerous yet beautiful world, you and I are also called to be God-bearers.

Today we are given the awesome privilege and responsibility to bring the good news of Jesus out there, into the world.

Merry Christmas and Amen!