Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Eve 2016

Every year, I go back to my parents' for Christmas and go to Christmas Eve service at the church I grew up in -- which has a different pastor now but a similar centrist non-political vibe. So it's not like I was actively expecting critique of our nation's slide into a fascist dumpster fire, I just -- the service is roughly Lessons & Carols, with the pastor offering a brief "meditation" after each reading, and each reading/meditation I found myself hungering for something substantive, something connecting the ancient story to the present day ... and it was just so banal, like why are you even bothering? Christmas Eve and Easter are the two most attended church services in the year, so those are your big chances to really speak to people, and if you want to let the texts speak for themselves I can understand that choice (who wants to have to come up with something new to say about the Christmas story?), but if you're gonna offer commentary, then actually say something!
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
-Luke 1:26-37 (NRSV)
It's really difficult for me to hear this story afresh, so I zoned out, and in the meditation the pastor talked about Jesus is the savior of all but came first to the Jews, fulfilling a promise God made to Abraham centuries before, and I worried there was gonna be some awkward supersessionism or something, but there wasn't, and I was hopeful that this would segue to opposing the rise of anti-Semitism ... but it didn't.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
-Luke 2:1-7 (NRSV)
So, the census made me think of the idea that's been floated of a Muslim registry. And hey, Syria! Or you could talk about how this positions Jesus in a specific political and historical context, that we don't exist separate from the political structures of our world.

Instead, the pastor talked about how each Gospel has a different author and is written to a different audience, and Luke is writing to Gentiles, to Greeks, and so he's situating the story with references they would recognize, but these men who were the most powerful political figures of their time are dust now (while Jesus is not). Which, okay, true, but systems (racism, capitalism, etc.) persist -- and this comes uncomfortably close to implying that it doesn't really matter who the earthly political leaders are because ultimately Jesus is Lord.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
-Luke 2:8-16 (NRSV)
The pastor wondered what that experience must have been like for the shepherds -- and said that's nothing compared to what the experience of the Second Coming will be like. Really, that's where you're going with this? The message of salvation comes first to some of the lowest people in society, and the message is PEACE -- days after the President Elect Tweets about a nuclear arms race, and all you have to say is to close out the service bringing us full circle from God's promise to Abraham to the eventual Second Coming? You have made glancing mention of the Crucifixion and the salvation you believe was enacted in that, but beyond some vague cosmic ideas you have given me nothing about why I should still care about this ancient story or what God has to say to the present moment. I get that most people show up to Christmas Eve service because (a) they already care, or (b) it's just What You Do, or (c) their family dragged them, so probably no one else was unhappy with this service, but I just don't understand how you can be a theologically engaged person (which this preacher is; my mom really appreciates how much Scripturally engaged his Sunday morning preaching is), and honestly just a person living in the world today, and ~preach such an empty service.

No comments:

Post a Comment