Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Virgin Gives Birth

On the last Sunday of advent we listened to a sermon we had heard before. It is one of my all time favorites. It is profound. It is the most profound Christmas sermon I have heard to date. And I have heard plenty. It takes you by surprise. You are waiting for the typical rehashing of the Christmas story: an angel's message, a young woman's question, a journey, and a manger. Instead this sermon is about barrenness.

Wait a minute. Barrenness? Isn't the Christmas message about abundance in giving? About a huge gift given to us? That brings forth fruit? Well, I suppose that is what makes that sermon so special to me. The preacher tells the story woven throughout the Old Testament of barren women who eventually give birth. Of barren Israel in her sins. It is a uselessness that God brings to His people from time to time. And it is nothing we can fix. The solution is humanly impossible. God uses barrenness to drive us back to Him because we get a glimpse in our emptiness of what life is like without Him. It is a mysterious way that God uses to win His people to Himself.

When it comes to Christ, God does something completely different. He tells a new story. He does a new thing. He takes a barren virgin and she is with child, a holy child. That child remakes Israel. He changes not just a nation or a family, but the world. He shows that in our barrenness He has abundant kindness awaiting us.

And the story does include gifts. He reminds us that gifts come wrapped and Christ came wrapped in human flesh. He tells us that it is the Divine nature to give gifts. It is human nature to take and to grasp. Our first parents took and grasped with impatience. Christ came and was the epitome of patience and so at His ascension God gave Him the nations. More gifts.

So our gifts to one another, our giving of ourselves and our substance to others is the image of God displayed in us. It is a picture of hope. It is an antithesis to barrenness. We are too much surrounded by people within and without grasping and (as Ezekiel 34 points out) butting and shoving to get the best pasture for themselves. The Church has been visited with a kind of uselessness in its efforts to win the world to Christ because of this. The closer we are to God, the more open our hands will be and our giving will abound because that is the nature of the Trinity.

That Advent sermon is one that challenges me every day. "Love's strength standeth in love's sacrifice, and whoso suffers most hath most to give." (Ugo Bassi) In a culture where taking and grasping abound, being the one who gives can be draining and debilitating. My dream is that Christians will learn the lessons of barrenness, stop grasping and taking for themselves, and start reflecting the Divine nature more and more. Then they will know us by our love.

---posted by Queen Lucy