Galatians 3:23–25; 4:4–7

For better, or for worse, I enjoy wide-ranging taste in music: On the one hand, I enjoy Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, as well as Sibelius, Vivaldi, Dvorak, Handel and Tchaikovsky. On the other hand, I also enjoy Aaron Copeland and George Gershwin. Then there’s Crash Test Dummies!

In one of their albums a few years ago, the Crash Test Dummies introduced a new number, “God Shuffled His Feet.” I cannot begin to reproduce the idiosyncrasies of the music itself and, believe me, you would not want me to do that! But I can read the lyrics:

After seven days
He was quite tired, so God said:
“Let there be a day
Just for picnics, with wine and bread”
He gathered up some people he had made
Created blankeys and laid back in the shade

The people sipped their wine
And what with God there, they asked him questions
Like: do you have to eat
Or get your hair cut in heaven?
And if your eye got poked out inthis life
Would it be waiting up in heaven with your wife?

God shuffled his feet and glanced around at them;
The people cleared their throats and stared right back at him.

So he said: “Once there was a boy
Who woke up with blue hair
To him it was a joy
Until he ran out into the warm air—
He thought of how his friends would come to see;
And would they laugh, or had he got some strange disease?”

God shuffled his feet and glanced around at them;
The people cleared their throats and stared right back at him.

The people sat waiting
Out on their blankets in the garden
But God said nothing
So someone asked him, “I beg your pardon:
I’m not quite clear about what you just spoke—
Was that a parable, or a very subtle joke?”

God shuffled his feet and glanced around at them;
The people cleared their throats and stared right back at him.

“Once there was a boy with blue hair . . .”

Paul would have sympathized with the Crash Test Dummies and their attempts to underline the incomprehension of the people around God, because the same difficulty faced the apostle in attempting to explain the changes wrought by faith in the life of his own church. Paul’s ministry to Gentiles had created new pressures in the fledgling community. The commitment which the largely Jewish church had to the Law prompted some to insist that the Gentiles conform to Jewish practices, including the practice of circumcision and the observance of certain Jewish festivals.

And even after Paul had championed a compromise, a small groups of radically conservative Christian Jews followed him across the Mediterranean, contending that Gentiles must conform to the demands of the Law. Reading between the lines, they evidently characterized their demands as an effort to complete Paul’s message and they suggested that those who conformed to those demands would achieve a kind of spiritual perfection as a result.

In response, Paul reminds the faithful in Galatia that the nature of the church’s life has changed decisively with the advent of faith in Christ. Achievement in any form can no longer define the community of faith and on the basis of faith a new equity has emerged:

For, you see, you are all children of God through your faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.

The reading from the epistle that we used this morning omits these verses, but far from being irrelevant, they help to underline the practical implications of the new order that exists in Christ.

It may seem strange to turn to texts dealing with the nature of the church and the new social realities which faith invites, so soon after Christmas. But, in fact, this is precisely the response that Christmas elicits.

For the rest of the world Christmas is something that can be celebrated on a single day. There is little that need concern them apart from the necessity of clearing away the wrapping paper and pine needles. For the Christian, however, Christmas demands a new reality. This is why gender and race recede into the background. “In Christ” there is not only a new spiritual order, but a new social order as well; and that new social order is an extension of the incarnation:

“God sent his own Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to purchase freedom for the subjects of the law, in order that we might attain the status of children .”

Or, to put it another way:

God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer cordially invites you to join life in a community of people with blue hair. Arising out of the incarnation, we expect to serve substantial helpings of forgiveness, given and received. We anticipate new-found equity and acceptance. We hope to live in a way that is marked by a shared sense of our dependence on grace. And we look forward frequent occasions for celebration that this is now possible. RSVP by faith at your earliest convenience.

Like so many other parties, there may be any number of reasons some of us may not have responded. Many of us have been programmed by our experience—not our experience of God, but of other human beings—our parents, friends, and others. The stuff of minor providence, the gods of our own making, they keep us from embracing the grace we are offered. We are not sure the host is actually that gracious.

And, so, like the opponents of Paul, we rely on the councils of moral perfection or performance. What we rarely acknowledge is that every scheme designed to impose some version of it on others inevitably places limits on God’s work in our midst. Closed to the Spirit’s prompting by the limits implicit in our own narrow definitions of God’s will, we fail to realize that such definitions are not only a burden, but are the enemy of their own, avowed goal of pleasing God.

Others of us are just embarrassed by the company we are invited to keep. Where did God get this guest list? The poor are invited with almost more enthusiasm than the wealthy. There is little or no attention to titles and protocol. You just simply don’t know who may be sharing with you out of the punch bowl. It’s bad enough when the menu is potluck, but when the guest list is left to chance, life at a party of that kind can be just too demanding.

And then there’s the nature of the occasion itself. The metaphors of God’s “army” and God’s “kingdom,” indeed! The church is more like a cross between a support group and a lemonade stand. No self-respecting leader of government or industry would willingly acknowledge the invitation. The mission statement is clear enough, but the strategic plan has been a shaky business from the beginning.

Or it may be that the occasion conflicts with other plans we have made. Upward mobility, success—as each of us might define it—plans that aren’t necessarily bad, they are just not likely to fit in easily with divine invitations.

There is no simple decisive answer to any of those objections. Faith is finally necessary—no matter how strong the case to be made for believing. Pascal even described the whole venture as a wager.

But Christmas reminds us that something larger is missing from our lives. Something that reconnects us with our need for the unqualified, unbounded love that is God, and for a third perspective that is large enough to embrace us all in that love. For a few moments, we are reminded that the year behind us should have been marked by a greater measure of the freedom that belongs to the children of God. And we are all reminded that none of us lives so far above the realities of life’s demands, that we are beyond needing forgiveness, acceptance and the presence of God.

So, on this first Sunday in Christmas it is my prayer that we will all freely acknowledge the needs that bring us to this party; and embrace the grace of God in Jesus Christ, the gift given to people with blue hair, who celebrate new life and new community around a meal called the Eucharist.

Amen.</P