Christmas Eve 24 December 2014
(Isaiah 9:2-7 Psalm 96 Titus 2:11-14 Luke 2:1-20)
“Christmas without Borders!”
I’m going to begin this evening by giving you the title of my sermon so you will have no excuse not to remember it. The title is: “Christmas without Borders!”
There are very few doctors who work at Mother of Mercy Hospital, a facility that is situated on the border between North and South Sudan. This is an area that never truly recovered from war nearly 10 years ago. There is one physician, Dr. Tom, as he is affectionately called, who treats people who were bombed, displaced, and starved, only because of their faith and the color of their skin. Although Dr. Tom would say his journey is one of faith, he would also say it began when he started working with Doctors without Borders, the organization founded in 1971, based on the premise that there should be no borders, no boundaries, and no obstacles when there are people in need .
With permission, I share an experience that took place in my office this morning. One of the guests who has been staying with the C.A.R.E.S. program, stopped to see me because he wanted to talk with me. The reason he stopped was to ask my forgiveness for something that had taken place the other evening. As our conversation was ending, with tears in his eyes, he said, “Pastor Mike, I believe kindness should never be taken for granted because we are all in this together.”
The Christmas story is a story about “all being in this together.” It is also certainly a story about borders.
The Gospel of Luke tells us that the Holy Family‘s journey begins with a population divided, a census of “the whole world…..each going to his own town.” [2:1-3] And, in the Gospel of Matthew, Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem, then flee to Egypt, then settle in Nazareth—crossing border after border after border so that the Son of God might one day break them down.
We live in a world where we have created so many artificial borders, artificial boundaries, and limitations and margins. We struggle to live out God’s call to reconsider the lines our world is so eager to draw. Conflicts over political and religious divides result in ongoing suffering and tragic deaths for Israelis and Palestinians. Violence continues between Ukrainians and Russian separatists long after cease fires have been called.
Poverty divides America. In the United States alone, an estimated one in seven households is food insecure. 1 Families in the United States continue to seek stability in the midst of so many destabilizing forces, yet, discussions about the best way to assist such families have produced still greater divisions.
In the midst of uncertain times today, it is all too easy to cry “each to his/her own town” and then settle into our own ways, to hole up in our own corners for the church or society.
But Christmas speaks a different message. Christmas speaks a different message, and the message is this: “The love of God is without borders! The love of God creates no boundaries!”
Hear the prophet Isaiah proclaim, “…a child will be born ….and there will be endless peace” [9:6,7]. Paul, when writing to Titus writes, “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all….” [2:11].
If indeed, the birth of the Christ child is about Christmas without Borders, then we are being called to something different, to something atypical. Christ’s birth calls us to more carefully consider our place in the world. What borders are we called to cross or to erase in our lives? In what ways are we being asked to move beyond the boundaries we have set for ourselves and for others? How can we best rebuild trust in each another? How can we not allow differences of faith, race, nationality or income keep us from truly seeing one another as neighbors, as children of God?
Christ entered fully into our humanity. Christ crossed from death to new life on our behalf. Christ understood the consequences of welcoming people who were considered outcasts. Christ understood that doing God’s will sometimes means rejection, pain and sorrow. Christ understood that allowing ourselves to be as vulnerable as that infant child born into his own uncertain times, that we can then become signs of Good News.
The birth of the Child in Bethlehem sends a message that cannot be contained by a single country or ideology. Through his birth, death and resurrection, and through our own lives—by seeking peace, by living love, by forgiving those we’ve wronged, by welcoming the stranger—such is the way we break down obstacles that separate us from each other and from God. In each of us then Christ is reborn.
When I visit a man dying of cancer and all he wants to do is hold my hand; when I sit with a woman with Muscular Dystrophy who asks that we just sit quietly together; when I visit a woman with dementia who wants to keep talking; when I tell the young man in the bed, racked with pain, to take my hand and squeeze it as hard as he is able—it is at those times when I pause to realize that the love come to us in the Christ Child knows no borders, that kindness should never be taken for granted.
At Christmas we are invited to return to God’s love more intentionally, to that place from which we have come, so that together we might build a reign of God that knows no borders, one that even as we help create it is already here.
“That was no time for a child to be born. . . .This is no time for a child to be born. . . Yet there did the Savior make his home. . . . Here does the Savior make his home. . Love still takes the risk of birth.”1
In all times and with all peoples, as we risk allowing love to rule us without borders, love without boundaries to guide us. . . . then we can then sing with loud voices and open spirits, Christ is born, but not only in Bethlehem but within our own hearts! Amen.
- Quoted from America magazine, December 22-29, 2014, issue. p. 5.
- Madeleine L’Engle, in her poem, The Risk of Birth, An Advent Poem.