We have an amazing machine in our office that can copy, print and scan. It can handle letter, legal and tabloid size paper. It can print envelopes too. It can fold and staple. It can collate and perform other functions I have never used. Nonetheless, a year or so ago I discovered what it can’t do. It can’t print newsletters with too many high-resolution photographs. The internal buffer in the machine simply doesn’t have enough capacity for some of my newsletters. It can’t lay down an image on the drum, so all I get is a blank sheet of paper; I can blow its mind.
This limitation stumped me at first. I knew I could solve the problem by removing some of the pictures, but I didn’t want to do that. I knew I could reduce the resolution of the pictures, but that was tedious and time-consuming task. What I was delighted to discover, almost by accident, was a very nice feature on my software that can compress all my photos with one click of the mouse without sacrificing the quality of the finished product.
Now that I’m just a week away from my retirement, I have been compressing all my newsletters so that they can fit conveniently on a thumb drive so that Lisa, or anyone else for that matter, can access them, if necessary, in the future.
I share this story with you because it illustrates the most amazing compression of all, that of God the Father compressing his eternally-begotten Son into a human embryo within the Virgin Mary nine months ago and she, in turn, delivering him into the world as a newborn infant tonight.
Jews and Muslims don’t believe that kind of compression is possible. They would insist that our biological equipment simply doesn’t have enough built-in buffer in to allow for it happen, that we don’t have the innate capacity to receive and accept the divine in all its fullness. And even we Christians are mystified at how the Creator, through whom all things are made, can also be the product of his own creativity, a human being like you and me, or, to continue the analogy of our printer-copier, that the Author of all newsletters can become a newsletter himself.
Isaiah expresses the mystery of the Incarnation in these familiar words: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”
For many people like me, it’s enough of a wonder that 23 chromosomes from a man and 23 from a woman can combine and develop into a human being, but the mystery of the Incarnation, of God taking upon himself human flesh, is altogether and forever astounding. We can never fully appreciate this mystery. We can only worship and adore this Child and join the angels in singing praises to him and to his Father and to the Spirit who overshadowed Mary, his mother, and reassured Joseph, her husband, with the faith and willingness to accept the awesome privilege and responsibility of delivering and caring for this unique newborn infant, this God made man.
But as fitting as it is for us to respond to the marvel of Jesus’ nativity, I would insist that it is only in retrospect, in the light of why God did this, why he submitted to such an unfathomable compression, that we cherish all the details of that birth which Luke has recorded for us in his own gospel newsletter, a timeless publication, whose primary source was Mary herself, who had pondered all the circumstances and details of her son’s birth over a lifetime, sharing them with Luke when they met years later at her home in Ephesus. Luke’s narrative has the power to do what no ordinary newsletter, newspaper or other publication can do, namely, to transform the hearts and minds of those of us and countless others around the world who are gathered tonight to hear his familiar account once again and to celebrate and honor our Savior’s birth.
And that is the primary reason we are here, because Jesus is our Savior, because we have been saved by this Child who is first born tonight. The details of Jesus’ birth would never have proven to be significant had he not fulfilled the promise of his birth, to be a gift for us, to be born into this world for us. As Titus puts it, “It is our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us – why? - that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.” We only care about where somebody comes from if that somebody grows up to have a genuine and lasting impact on our lives.
We are here because each of us has experienced Jesus’ redeeming grace in our lives in one way or another. His love has set us free from our slavery to sin so that we are now constrained by his love instead of being tyrannized by that fatal flaw we inherited from Adam and Eve, the perverse desire to rebel against God’s will, thinking it will make us more alive, when in fact it always leads to death.
And more than freeing us from sin’s grip, we are here because this child’s grown-up love has begun to purify us, to remove the stain that sin has left on us. Like lepers who have been cleansed, Jesus has chosen to cleanse us, not just to allow us to return to the circle of our family and friends, but so that we might bear witness as lights in our own generation, scattering the darkness of this world, to everyone we meet, as the transformed people we have become and are continuing to become. The grace of God helps us get well, not chiefly as an end in itself, but even more for the sake of the good deeds that we are now able and even zealous to do in the strength of that grace and our renewed vitality.
We believe that the love of Jesus, poured out decisively on the cross, has claimed us, has purchased us, has redeemed us from a debt we could never repay. While everything in this world belongs to Jesus because everything is made through him, Titus reminds us that we are his special, chosen and treasured possession. What does Jesus want for Christmas? What’s at the top of his list? What’s he shopping for? You and me. Jesus has decided that you and I who are here tonight are what he wants more than anything or anyone else, not only for Christmas, but for the rest of our earthly lives and forever.
On this, my final Christmas Eve with you as your rector, I thank God that our parish has been like a divine copier-printer, with Christ, the author of our salvation as our divine buffer and consequently a creation with more built-in capacity than any other human institution can offer, making it possible for God to reproduce the very image and life of his Son, Jesus Christ, in us, filling us so full that we cannot but offer songs of praise to him out of grateful hearts. I’ve seen Christ in you again and again and again. May the wonderful and glorious truth of the Gospel ever be uploaded into this divine copier, and may the toner of Christ’s sacraments feed and form him in our minds, hearts and bodies until we reach the full stature of Christ as his Body, the Church, and as his adopted brothers and sisters. AMEN.