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Christmas Day December 25, 2015 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend
Christmas Day
Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-12; John 1:1-14
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Friday, December 25th, 2015
The Rev. Samuel Torvend
Seventy years ago, the German Lutheran pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was executed by the Nazi regime just a few days before the end of the Second World War. Bonhoeffer and five members of his family were put to death because they were actively engaged in the failed plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler and other Nazi leaders. In letters from the prison where he was incarcerated, Bonhoeffer wrote that though he was raised in a world of comfort and privilege, he had begun to see his own life and that of others “from below” – from below, that is “from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled – in short from the perspective of those who suffer” (After Ten Years, reflections on ten years of Nazi control).   
His introduction to this view from below began seventeen years earlier when he was assigned as an intern to a German Lutheran parish in the Spanish city of Barcelona along the Mediterranean Sea. There he discovered that the comfortable and wealthy German businessmen who attended church on Sunday, who sang the hymns, recited the prayers, and received communion were also the same persons who treated their largely illiterate, poor, and Spanish house servants as second class persons, as people holding little social value other than to clean up after their German bosses. What was not lost on Bonhoeffer - and should not be lost on us - is the irony of this situation in which Jesus, Mary, and Joseph had and have far more in common with illiterate and poor Spanish servants than comfy German businessman. Bonhoeffer came to the realization that what happened in church seemed to have little effect on those who claimed to be Christian. Thus he wrote that the religion of Christ is not a tidbit of bread one consumes from time to time but, on the contrary, Christ is all of one’s bread – all of one’s daily nourishment – or he is nothing.
The gospel reading for this day – in which you and I hear of the Word of God entering this world as life and as light for all – prompted the young Bonhoeffer to consider its significance for those who hear it and allow it to shape their view, to shape our view of life in this world. “Here,” he wrote, “the light shines on those who are ever neglected, insignificant, weak, unknown, opposed, despised; here it radiates over the houses of prostitutes and tax collectors. Here the light has been cast on those who toil and struggle. The word of grace spreads across the stale sultriness of the cities, but it halts before the houses of the [self-] satisfied, the ‘haves’ of this world in a spiritual sense. It speaks this everlasting word to those who will receive it: I have loved you from eternity; remain with me and thus you will live. Christianity preaches the unending worth of the apparently worthless and the unending worthlessness of what is so apparently valuable. The weak,” he concluded, “shall be made strong through God and the dying shall live” (Jesus Christ and the Essence of Christianity).
Dear brothers and sisters, the child in each of us may well be drawn to the story of a birth in distant Palestine, in which angels sing sweetly under the stars, and a mother holds her new-born baby as farm animals look on with wonder. But, I dare say, it takes an adult to contemplate the significance of this birth, of this light that shines on those who are ever neglected, insignificant, and unknown. For the light indeed reveals what can be overlooked, forgotten, or shunted to the side. It reveals that the great creator of the stars and the seas dwells with you and me and that this light radiates love – not condemnation – love and only love for those who will receive it.
But, then, here is the challenge: this love is greater than you and me, greater than the church, greater than Christianity, greater than we can imagine, offering unending worth to what our society and what our hearts consider apparently worthless. The love of Christ is not an object we receive but a Presence that when received will transform you and me, will change our perceptions of what is of “unending worth” in this world. “ Yes, the love of God, revealed in Christ, is with us – yet this love radiates ever outward, inviting you and me, urging you and me, to follow it into the street, the home, the workplace, the school: to the homeless shelter, the food pantry, the jail, the nursing home, the detention center. This love radiates ever outward, inviting you and me to receive its bread and its wine here at the altar, and then become – become – what we eat and drink: you and me, the body of Christ love’s at work in this world.