I wish you all who are gathered in this beautiful Cathedral Church of St. Peter and Paul and you who are sharing in this act of worship through television a joyous and blessed Christmas–the last of this century. In doing this, we commemorate herewith an event that took place nearly 2000 years ago, actually nineteen hundred and ninety-nine years ago. It was a momentous event, truly indeed epoch making. We commemorate the birth of a baby whose coming into the world helped mark the ages–everything before this birth belonged in the BC era, the time before this Christ child, and everything afterwards was identified as AD, Anno Domino, the year of the Lord, to whom all times belonged. Can you imagine what Hollywood would have done, given a free hand with such a momentous event? We can imagine the spectacular extravaganza in Technicolor that would have resulted!
That beautiful Christmas Carol “0 Little Town of Bethlehem” says so poignantly, “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift was given.” God, the ever-courteous Lord, would not wish to violate our integrity by the kind of evidence that would nullify our precious freedom to choose. And so God, the omnipotent One, possessing all, because God created it all, came, not in a blinding glory that would make faith superfluous but as a vulnerable little infant, nuzzled by the animals. For this Divine Royal Child was born not in a royal palace, not even in the local inn, but in a stable, for there was no room for him in the inn. If someone had asked, “Who is that baby?” could anyone really have said, “Oh, that is God!”
Cape Town in South Africa is famous for its beauty and is also famous for its graffiti. When I was Archbishop, near the Archbishop’s official residence, Bishopscourt, these words appeared on a wall: “I was an Episcopalian until I put two and two together.” In a way, we could say Jesus is God’s graffiti, to say to each one of us, every single one, “I love you with a love that cannot change.” And God speaks those words, quietly, gently into your heart, into my heart, into the hearts of all of us. Stevie Wonder used to have a hit that said, “I just called to say I love you.” In Jesus, in this birth it is as if God were saying to you, and to you, and to you, and to me, “I just called to say I love you. You are special to me; you are precious.”
Through this Christmas event, God was saying too, “I am a biased God, a God who takes sides. I am biased in favor of the weak, of the vulnerable, of the voiceless. I am biased in favor of the sinner so that in my heaven, there is not just joy, but greater joy over one sinner who repents, than over 99 needing no repentance. I have a soft spot for the despised, the ostracized.”
Just look at the parents God chose for his Son. They did not have clout even to get a room in the inn. Somebody says Joseph went to the innkeeper and said, “Please, please help me, my wife is pregnant,” and the innkeeper replied, “It’s not my fault.” And Joseph retorted, “It’s not mine either.” It was such as these who were to become his friends, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the scum of society. It was about these that he could say, so remarkably, “Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these, my sisters and my brothers, you have done it to me.”
In his coming, in his turning an epoch to make it belong to the Lord, AD, he proclaimed that all were God’s children, all were members of one family–this new society ruled by kingdom values-love, compassion, gentleness, caring and sharing and ruled by the ethic of family. That was truly revolutionary, truly radical. Wouldn’t it still be in our world today, if we recognized that we were sisters and brothers members of one family? Would we spend obscene amounts on defense budgets of death and destruction when a small amount would insure a good life for our sisters and brothers everywhere? They would have clean water, good education and affordable health care. Would we wonder what to do with budget surpluses when our sisters and brothers were starving elsewhere–were dying of curable, preventable disease elsewhere?
If we knew ourselves to be sisters and brothers, would we allow members of our family in developing countries to carry huge burdens of un-payable debt? Would we not all support the Jubilee 2000 campaign to cancel international debt to give them a chance to make a new beginning in the new millennium? God through Jesus says to you, “I love you. You are precious to me and help me to have a truly Anno Domino in 2000–a new society, compassionate and gentle, caring and sharing–for I just called to say I love you.”