God’s sign of the healing of the universe is a baby: and when we understand that, we begin to learn patience, and so to find hope for all things.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The eve of the Nativity of Our Lord
Text: Luke 2:1-20; also using: James 5:7a; Romans 8:24a, 25
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“Be patient, beloved, until the coming of the Lord,” James urges. (James 5:7a)
But who wants to be patient for this coming anymore? How much longer will this world struggle with injustice and oppression? How much more will God allow before doing something?
“Be patient,” say all those in power, all who are privileged, all who oppress, “things can’t change all at once.” But in those voices, “be patient” is just a way to stop reform, to shut down voices who cry out for justice, to hinder progress.
Tonight we celebrate that the Triune God of all time and space, the creator and lover of all things, has become human, has joined our life here, and is bringing peace, and healing, and restoration. God’s mercy is among us and God’s promises are being fulfilled. But it’s hard to see many signs of “peace on earth, good will to all” in our world. What are we to do? Be patient?
Paul says to his church in Rome: “For in hope we were saved. . . . But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24a, 25) “All earth is hopeful,” we sing, but all earth doesn’t always see that God is doing anything. Paul’s wisdom is that patience is born from such hope in the unseen. Paul says patience, one of the Spirit’s fruits, is a good thing.
Can “be patient” be words of hope for us as well?
We may not have an option to patience, given how we know God works.
Any talk of God “doing something” falls apart when we actually ask just how that would happen. Do we want God as superhero, powerfully flying in to stop whatever evil or oppression or wickedness needs stopping? We’ve never seen God do that before.
Do we want God as ruler, somehow affecting political systems, maybe even changing elections? It’s doubtful any of us believe God manipulates in that way.
And what of miracles? We pray for them, especially for healing, and sometimes God does them. Many times God doesn’t. And what miraculous fix could God do to make our society and world more at peace? Destroy all weapons from above?
The problem with our impatience is that if we want God to restore things immediately, the only options are forcibly changing this world in some way. And that’s not how we’ve known God to work, it’s not how the Scriptures say God works. Virtually no religion in the world believes that.
But let’s come back to tonight. Shepherds on a Judean hillside were told “good news of great joy”: God had come to save, to bring peace to all. But this was the sign they were given: Go look for a baby. Not a superhero or a politician or a miracle-worker. “Peace to all” starts with a baby.
This baby wasn’t part of the earliest hope of the Church.
The earliest Christian writing and records of early Christian worship focus on Easter, Christ’s humiliation and degradation and death on a cross, and rising from the dead in glory. The proclamation of God’s breaking of death’s power and making a new reality in Christ for the whole universe was central.
But at some point, believers also began to ponder where Jesus of Nazareth came from. He didn’t appear suddenly as a 30-year-old on the banks of the Jordan. And this wonder emerged: this crucified and risen Jesus, this Word of God, this eternal Christ, began his ministry on this earth not as teacher, healer, or even Savior. He began as a baby.
Of course, that’s obvious. He had to have been born. But by the time of Luke’s writing this is called Good News: the sign of God’s peace on earth, the sign of the beginning of God’s salvation and healing for all things, the only thing the shepherds were told to look for, is a baby in a manger.
And that sign can only be known and grasped with patience.
Once a baby begins inside her mother, there are nearly nine months of speculation and wonder and waiting for the arrival. There’s no rushing this. Then when the baby arrives, for weeks and weeks little happens, just small indicators of change. Then there are growing teeth; making sounds, then words; crawling, then walking. The independent mind appears, then the teen years, and the pre-frontal cortex development, and finally a grown human being. Watching and waiting for what a person will become from conception onward requires the deepest of patience.
Because a baby is all about potential. Certainly growing into something that’s new every day. But initially, and for many years, a baby is promised hope, potential energy.
This is your sign of God’s salvation, the angel sang. Look for a baby. Begun, but not yet fully realized, life.
This sign says God’s salvation of this universe is an inside job, not a rescue mission.
The groundwork of God’s coming was patiently laid for centuries before Bethlehem. And when God’s Son finally came, after nine months of gestation, there were thirty years of growing, before ever a word of proclamation was uttered. The Triune God was willing to wait a long time.
That’s patience. And then even after the resurrection and Pentecost, it became obvious this was a slow play by God. Twenty years after Pentecost, thirty, forty, Rome still ruled, people did evil, disease plagued, poverty was rampant. Maybe some of the mentions of the second coming of Christ in the New Testament came from people losing patience with the speed of God’s healing salvation. Come a second time, God, but this time as a fully grown Savior who will rule in power and do something.
But God’s sign says, look at the baby and ponder what that means. In God’s patient willingness to arrive as an infant child, we see the whole of God’s plan. All things will be healed from within the creation, one person at a time. The least important part of what Jesus did in his whole ministry was the miracles. Superpowers and miraculous force aren’t part of God’s plan. Teaching and modeling God’s love, calling people one at a time, revealing the depth and strength of God’s love at the cross, rising to bring new life, sending the Holy Spirit to keep this love spreading, that’s the plan.
God’s desire to love the creation back into the Triune life of God can only happen in this glacial, maddeningly slow way. When your heart is transformed and you start beaming out God’s radiant light, a little more each hour, each day. When that light of God’s love spreads from you and lights another, little by little, day by day. It may not look like much at first. And maybe not for a long time. But eventually love’s light will dawn over the whole creation.
You can learn a lot about patience waiting on a baby.
But remember this: in that patience, that long-suffering waiting, that watching for signs of growth and maturing and doing, there is great hope.
Because peace on earth goodwill to all is on the move. God’s healing has begun. We’ve seen signs of it growing and spreading for 2,000 years. Now it is within you, flickering around the outside of your heart, moving its way into your core. As long as it will take God to change you, that’s just a glimpse of how long it will take God to change the world.
But look at the baby. That’s your sign. Ponder, let the Spirit grow patience in you, and be of good cheer. Because there is hope, and this sign is good news of great joy for all the people. Not least of which for you yourself.
In the name of Jesus. Amen