Delivered at Ames UCC
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
Although I am supposed to speak about Jesus tonight, what I really want to do is speak about you.
Not because the story of the birth of Jesus is unimportant, but because the story is also about how you are important.
This story of census and unplanned pregnancy and doing the right thing and giving birth and angels and herdsmen is an offer of faith from long ago to you this night, an offering about holiness for you.
An offering about the little bit of holiness within you.
This may feel surprising to some of you, even uncomfortable, the notion that you—we—are not only observers of the story, caretakers of its sacred heart, but a small revelation of that heart, too.
That’s probably because most of us here have a pretty poor assessment of humanity. There is no shortage of evidence that we humans are bad. Bad at our care of ourselves, each other, creation. And if we didn’t feel that already, the public square is full of messages about our badness: too fat, too poor, to black, too foreign. Bad.
And then some of us came up in churches that taught about our badness. Some churches teach that humans are born into sin, and “original sin” that has been bequeathed to every single person born in the world by ancestors ancient and fallible.
But there is another perspective. There is another view from which we may assess ourselves, each other, and creation, a way ancient and faithful to our God of humble births. It is the Celtic Christian notion of “original blessing.”
In its earliest days, the earliest years, and first couple of centuries after the murder and mystery of Jesus, the Christian marketplace was robust. It is still, to a degree, with all of the manifestations of Protestantism, the Orthodox, and the Roman churches. But in the beginning, the competition was not between churches and doctrine but the versions of the good news that emerged and circulated.
In northern Europe, in regions that spoke Celtic languages, groups came to align themselves primarily with the good news, or gospel, according to John. They professed John’s message of individual access to a universal Christ, the Christ that was in the beginning with God and was God.
This was in contrast to more southerly alignment with the apostle Paul and his emphasis on the crucified Christ, which eventually became a message of corporate access through institutional church.
Another key distinction for the Celtic Christians, was their belief, grounded in the Bible, that goodness was at the heart of creation.
Franciscan priest Richard Rohr, an authority on this branch of the Christian family tree, notes that we receive six lessons about this “inherent goodness” in Genesis:
- earth and seas: good;
- vegetation and plant life: good;
- lights in the dome of the sky: good;
- sea monsters and winged birds: good;
- cattle and creeping things and wild animals: good;
- humankind, of all kinds: very good.
Goodness and “very goodness” are the atoms of life. None of us, no matter how bad we feel we may have been or become, can be born with a deficiency. None of us are born with an “original sin” for there is no sin in God’s beginnings.
Instead, we are born with a blessing, a blessing from our very origin. It is a blessing that can become tarnished and obscured over our lives, but it can never be taken away, not by our own actions nor those of another. It is a blessing that, with Jesus’s help, frees us to be blessings to each other.
We celebrate the strange stories he will come to tell, the simple generosity he will inspire, and the depth of love he will risk everything for.
We also celebrate the blessing of God revealed in all births, from that first explosive one of the cosmos to our own one, ten, forty, ninety years ago.
Some days we may feel as distant from our original blessing as Joseph when, upset and confused, he first learned of Mary’s pregnancy. Some evenings we may feel called to it as angel-heralded shepherds on a plan. And some nights we may feel, like Mary, the pangs of what it asks us to birth.
But, tonight, receive a renewal of your original blessing. Receive from our ancients the good news of God in Christ that is also in you, swaddled, humble, and ready to grow.
Merry Christmas and Amen!