Grace to you and peace, from God our Creator and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We created humanity, and we know what their mind suggests to them, and we are nearer to them than their jugular vein.
These holy words probably don’t sound familiar to many of you. In fact, you might even be wondering why I’d start a Christmas Eve sermon with any words other than the beautiful story I’ve just read. After all, it’s Christmas Eve and we’ve come for a purpose — to celebrate the birth of the Christ-child; and to testify that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” These holy words do, however, have great importance tonight and all nights.
“We created humanity, and we know what their mind suggests to them, and we are nearer to them than their jugular vein.” These holy words probably don’t sound familiar to many of you because the are not Scripture; or, rather, they aren’t our Scripture. These words from Surah 50 of the Holy Qur’an show the intimate, yet complex, relationship between Creator and Created. Although Islam doesn’t hold the same beliefs about who Jesus was, the Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — all believe that God’s relationship with humanity is dear and devoted.
“We created humanity, and we know what their mind suggests to them, and we are nearer to them than their jugular vein. I begin with these words for two reasons. First, for their beauty and relevance, especially on this holiest of nights. Second, to highlight that while God’s relationship with us might be different from our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, God has mercy and compassion for all people.
Now, some of you may need to remember this in the coming days — dealing with family at the big Christmas celebration tomorrow, the mile-long return lines at customer service, and that one uncle who doesn’t know when to stop — wait, is he even really an uncle? Well, repeat after me: God has mercy and compassion for all people!
But seriously, this is something we too often forget. The idea that God could have mercy and compassion on all people is just as important as the idea that God created us all, knows all our deepest thoughts, and is as close to us as the blood coursing through our veins. I really like the contrast of these two ideas. God is mercifully and compassionately present with all of creation, regardless of ritual or religion. But God is also present in the reality of human existence: blood, sweat, and tears.
See, we’ve romanticized and sterilized the Christmas narrative. We think it’s all about angels, shepherds, kings from afar and percussive livestock, all celebrating the birth of a tiny babe in a manger. These characters are all in the story, yes; but reading the story that way just doesn’t cut it in today’s broken, hurting world.
So, what is the story of Christmas really about? The story of Christmas is about God’s love. It’s about God’s love coming among us in the midst of blood and sweat and pain and suffering. It’s about God’s love coming to a broken, hurting world. It’s about God’s love coming to poor shepherds and an teen mom. It’s about God’s love coming to you and me. It’s about God’s love coming for all people.
See, God has always had an intimate relationship with humanity. God created us and she knows our inmost desires. God is closer to us than our jugular vein. That’s why when creation fell, God gave us a law. When we couldn’t follow the law, God gave us prophets. When we didn’t listen to the prophets, God gave us God’s self — in the flesh, Emmanuel, God-with-us.
We should always celebrate God’s love; but tonight, we celebrate that love in a special way. Tonight, we remember that Jesus, God’s own self, didn’t first come to Caesar Augustus or Quirinius or Herod. Instead, Jesus first came to the people the world didn’t notice: sweaty migrant workers, unwed mothers, young men in complicated relationships. People the world would rather not love. People the world might not always notice.
And that means God’s love is also for those who live paycheck to paycheck, and those who are denied basic human rights because of the color of their skin, and those who are unemployed or underemployed, and those who are victims of oppressive systems, and those who are in broken relationships, and even people like you and me.
Remember that Jesus, God’s love incarnate, was born for you. Hear “God loves you,” treasure all these words and ponder them in your heart. But don’t think that God’s love stops there. God’s love reaches people who look differently than we do. God’s love stretches outside of our cultural or ritual norms. God’s love touches the lives that we are afraid to touch.
So repeat after me: God’s love is for all people!
I could end there. I should end there. But there is one more part of the Christmas story I just read that should really be repeated. “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” The shepherds — those poor, sweaty, migrant workers — return to life as they knew it, but their lives would never be the same. They have seen Christ, and they share that message of God’s love to everyone they encounter. And all who hear it are amazed.
My prayer for you is that every day you will see Christ and your life will be changed. I pray that you will encounter the God who is closer to you than your jugular vein. And I pray that you will go out into the world telling everyone that Christ is with us, and that God’s love is for all people.
Frohe und gesegnete Weihnachten. Joyeux Noël. Feliz Navidad. Eid Milad Saeid. Merry Christmas. Amen.
This sermon was preached at St Michael’s Church, Trenton NJ, on December 24, 2015.