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Sunday, December 25, 2016

December 24, 2016

Gospel: Luke 2:1-20 
1st Reading: Isiah 9:2-7
2nd Reading: Titus11-14

When people in church get asked what is most distracting to them when they are trying to worship, they mention cell phones, or vehicles going past, problems with the microphone, and things like that. But more often than any of those, they mention children. Children are distracting, and most distracting for the parents and grandparents who are trying to hear and worship. Our own kids and grandkids sound a hundred times louder to us, don't they? I remember a couple of times my sister has attended worship when I've been preaching and I've crafted a sermon with her in mind, because I believe there is good news of great joy for her. Of course, she didn't hear a word of it, because she was tending to her kids. Now, I get to be the one interrupted. But isn't that what I wanted when I decided to have a child?

The Christmas story is one of a child interrupting our lives. Mary had plans. She was about to be married. She was about to leave her family home. And an angel comes to her with these words of interruption, “Greetings, favored one! I bring you good news of great joy!” The amazing thing is, Mary agrees to be interrupted, even though she could hardly anticipate the other interruptions that would go along with bearing this child, the Son of God.

The baby Jesus interrupts the life of Joseph. He had other plans. He planned to be married and join his life and Mary's. He certainly planned to continue his carpenter's business. He planned participate in the life of their community. But God interrupted his plans. Mary interrupts his tidy picture of marriage with her announcement of her pregnancy. Then he is interrupted by a dream, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for she is with child from the Holy Spirit.” 

Joseph and Mary are interrupted. This baby came at an unexpected moment, before they were ready for him. Because of him and his timing, tongues surely wagged, perhaps his family members were ashamed. Because of him and his timing and the fact that he was born to a poor family, there was no room for them to give birth in a comfortable place, an acceptable place. 

This newborn King was an interruption to Herod, who thought he was secure in his power. Now he finds out a baby is trying to take his place, to usurp his throne. Because of Herod's threat, the Holy family fled to Egypt—another interruption to their plans, to ensure the safety of their son. 

This baby was an interruption to the shepherds, watching their flocks by night. Only this was a welcome interruption to those who had never received a birth announcement before, let alone, one of this grandeur and magnitude. No one cared what they thought. No one had the time for them. However, that's who the angels sang to that blessed night. They were glad of the interruption! And they didn't waste any time going to the side of their king, who would become the Good Shepherd, tending his own flock gently and lovingly, but also being one that everyone discounted.

Our lives can be thought of as a series of interruptions. We make plans, but we are interrupted by traffic, the phone, other people, mishaps, etc. 

There are also many interruptions on a larger scale. Lives for countless refugees are interrupted as they flee from terror in Allepo and other places around the world. Children's growth is interrupted by malnutrition. Their education is interrupted by the bombing. The climate patterns we have grown accustomed to are being interrupted, because of all the carbon we burn. This change in climate interrupts the lives of plants and animals in a chain reaction we may never recover from and which our species might not survive. 

For some of us this evening is an interruption, albeit a smaller one.  Christmas eve service can sometimes feel like an interruption to family time, to gift-giving, and even to getting needed rest before tomorrow.  It took an effort for most of us to be here tonight, an effort that interrupted pajama time and more.  But for some, I hope it is a welcome interruption.  We pause from all our preparations and stresses to remember why we do all this--the reason for the season so to speak.  We interrupt our consumerism, our frenzy of activity, to take a breath. God interrupts our stress to say, "I love you.  I am going to show up myself.  Not in riches and honor and might, not in AK-47s or wearing Versace and not elected by the popular vote or electoral collage.  I can't even lift my head up, I'm such a weak and helpless creature.  But I will teach you how to love and where to find me and where to focus.  It will interrupt every assumption you ever had about what matters, but it will lead you to new life."

For those of us who are comfortable, an interruption is annoying and tiresome.  But for the poor and suffering, an interruption is exactly what needs to happen.  A ceasefire in Alleppo--a chance for people to flee, to get the sick and injured out, to get food and supplies in--that is an interruption that the powerless need to even survive.  The powerful could scarcely allow it to happen.  At Interfaith Advocacy Day in Salem in February, several of us will go to advocate for an interruption to greed and call for an end to no cause evictions in our state as well as a cap on how much rents can be raised.  For the good landlords, this is not an interruption.  They will go on as they have, with the interests of their tenants balanced with their own interests of keeping up a home or apartments in good repair and safety.  But for greedy landlords, we hope we can interrupt the system which is evicting the poor and the vulnerable to live in their cars or couch surf.  

We have a choice to interrupt our own comfort to interrupt the cycle of destruction.  Some are wearing safety pins of solidarity with vulnerable people and find themselves stepping up and intervening when a slur is hurled or an ignorant statement is made.  Some are biking or taking public transportation, small interruptions in our lives of convenience and comfort to begin to interrupt the burning of fossil fuels.  A colleague of mine interrupted his week a couple of months ago to stand with the people of Standing Rock, to protest the oil pipeline headed for sacred lands of indigenous people, and found himself in the midst of a sacred worship action that lasted for months an months in which nonviolent resistance and forgiveness were the center.

If we are rich and powerful, an interruption is something to be resisted, because things are like we want them to be.  But if we are poor and suffering, an interruption is exactly what we need, to stop the powers of destruction from continuing on this path.  I suspect if you are here, you have enough comfort to get yourself here.  You are comfortable enough to be literate and fed.  However, your heart breaks when you open your eyes to the pain of this world.  You let your comfortable lives be interrupted by the awareness that all over the world people are suffering, even in our own neighborhoods kids are hungry and cold, and won't wake up to gifts in the morning.  You know this world is not as it should be and could be, and you want to be part of a great interruption.  You are saying, “Take my comforts, my car, my gifts, and instead bring the gift of peace on earth, of every mouth being fed and every tear being dried.  None of my stuff means anything, in fact it is a burden. Interrupt our comfortable lives, little child, shivering in the cold.  Interrupt our lives, God in the flesh on death row.  Interrupt our comforts so that we may be your hands and feet interrupting the powers of death in this world, so that your Kingdom will come and your reign of peace may truly begin.” 

Jesus came to interrupt. He interrupted the blind to give them sight. He interrupted the hungry to feed them. He interrupted to the sinner to give them forgiveness. He interrupted the sick to heal them. He still does all these things today.

But he also interrupts those in with riches and power to show them they put their faith in something that doesn't last. He interrupts the religious leaders who like to show off to tell them that God is watching. He interrupts systems of oppression, to bring justice. 

And when we couldn't handle his interruptions and tried to interrupt his life by hanging him on a tree, he interrupted our false notions of what life and death is, by his resurrection. So he interrupts Mary in the Garden that Easter morning with an appearance and the reminder again not to fear. Then he interrupts death for all of us, by making us his brothers and sisters, and giving us new life, eternal life.

The powers of darkness are real and scary. However they will not stand against the powers of life and goodness that God brings in Jesus Christ. A baby is interrupting us one more time. But this time we will see we needed to be interrupted with God's love and light.

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