Christmas Sermon: Being Interrupted by God
Christmas is the most unlikely of events. That is probably why it has captured our hearts and imaginations for centuries – that God would break into our world not as a warrior king but as a small, vulnerable baby born into the poverty of a stable, laid in a feeding trough surrounded by straw. You and I would not have planned it this way. We would have found the Blessed Virgin a five-star hotel or a technologically sophisticated birthing unit. But God’s plans are not like ours.
God has been planning this moment since before time began. He first announced His Son’s coming even long before the prophet Isaiah cried out, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Indeed, when our first human parents committed the first sin – without which today’s joyous events never would have occurred – God the Father told the serpent, the ancient enemy of mankind, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Today we celebrate the arrival of the one who will crush the head of the serpent, setting into motion God’s plan for the salvation of the human race.
Yet God’s solution to the world’s greatest problem -- sin -- is not what we would have planned. When, after all, was the last time that a baby was the solution to a problem? The world would tell us that babies create problems, that they are an infringement upon their parents’ happiness – one more mouth to feed, soccer practice to juggle, and college tuition bill to pay. And while God clearly does not see things this way, if you had an emergency, picked up the phone, and dialed 911 and the response on the other end was not, “911, what is your emergency?” but the cries and screams of a newborn baby boy, I am sure that you find it more than a little odd. Yet, this is precisely what God has done today! The solution to the greatest problem the world has ever faced – the inescapable original sin of Adam and Eve, binding man in chains for thousands of years until Christ’s coming – is a baby boy.
At Christmas, we behold not only the poverty of man – born in a stable, rejected from the inn – but even the poverty of God. This is the mystery before which we stand in wonder and awe, that God would make Himself so poor and vulnerable as to become a fragile, newborn child. Here, then, is the poverty of God – not the poverty of the animals’ stable, but the poverty of our weak human flesh so marvelously assumed at His Incarnation. The world, as I said, so often sees a baby as an interruption, and while we know that this view is shallow and impoverished, if we stand before the crèche we see many people whose lives were indeed interrupted. Joseph, the foster father of the Christchild, feared to take Mary into his home when She was found with child before they had come together. The shepherds were just settling down on a cold night when the angels interrupted their rest. The Magi were content in their opulent palaces far away in the east before they noticed the new star that just could not be ignored.
Christ’s coming in the flesh is not just a charming event from the past to be remembered today, but is made present by the Church’s celebration. That means that He not only interrupted the lives of those shepherds and kings, but that He comes to interrupt your life as well. He wants to interrupt your daily routine by calling you to devote time to Him every day in prayer. He wants to interrupt your weekend routine, your family activities, and even your travel plans by making Holy Mass the cornerstone of each week, being present as Christ continues to be born into time by taking on not only weak human nature, but even the appearance of bread and wine which are really His Body and Blood given for you. He wants to interrupt your life plans with the surprises that come with placing His will before yours. He wants to interrupt your life with the voice of your conscience, through which He calls you to seek out the forgiveness of your sins that the Infant Savior came to win for you on the Cross.
Being interrupted is not fun. In our culture, we find it rude. But God does not operate on the rules of our Anglo-American culture. He has a way of cutting in, a way of interrupting things in such inconvenient ways. Yet, isn’t it the case that those who refuse to allow themselves to be interrupted, while they might be prolifically productive, miss out on the greater joys of life? Imagine what would have happened if the Magi had ignored the star, or if the shepherds had told the angels to come back at a more convenient time! And yet we so often do precisely this when we tell the Lord that we are not ready for Him just now, that He is going to have to work around our busy schedule.
This Christmas, allow Christ to interrupt your life. Allow Him to interrupt your busy routine by setting aside time for Sunday Mass and for daily prayer. Allow Him to interrupt the carefully constructed plans that you have made for your life by putting His will before your own, knowing that His plans, even when they seem difficult, will bring even more joy to your life with the adventure of being His disciple.
If you and I had planned the birth of the Christchild, it would not look have looked anything like this. But God’s plans are so much better than ours! Yours and my version of the Nativity story would not have captured the hearts and imaginations of trillions of men, women, and children over the centuries with the tender affection inspired by the sight of the crèche. Just as God had a better and more beautiful plan for the birth of His Son, so too does He have a better and more beautiful plan for your life than the one you have concocted, however clever and ambitions it might be. Allowing the Christchild to interrupt our lives means allowing the Lord to take us down that more beautiful path, even when there are bumps in the path. The world’s most beautiful scenery is never seen from a car window.
There is one person in that manger scene who was not interrupted by the Lord, one who was perfectly attuned to God’s plan. That, of course, is Mary. Through careful prayer and attentiveness to God’s word, Mary was ready to behold God as He revealed Himself in His poverty, in that little child that She laid in the manger. This Christmas, imitate Her by looking for God in His poverty in the world around us today: in the poor, the sick, the disabled, the marginalized, the refugee, and the unborn. And imitate Her readiness for the Lord by making space in your life for God to interrupt you, especially by recognizing in the Eucharist the same Infant King who is born today.
Beside the manger, the Mother of God and all those who have allowed Christ to interrupt their lives are filled with joy. God, in His poverty, has drawn close to us. Now allow Him to interrupt your life, and draw near to Him.
Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen
Nativity of the Lord, A.D. MMXVIII