Sermon Text: Christmas as a Subversive Activity
Christmas can be a subversive activity.
In the Christmas story from Luke's Gospel, angels suddenly appear to the shepherds abiding in the fields and announce the birth of the Christ Child.
The shepherds in our Christmas pageants here at St. Mark's are adorable. But the job of shepherd in first-century Palestine was not adorable. It was dirty, unappreciated work. Shepherds had little status back then. They were nobodies. They were marginal. They were expendable.
So for the angels to tell these people about the Christ Child first is a really big deal. This Child is born for the nobodies. This Child is born for the marginalized. This Child is born for the expendables.
Now, the Gospel of Mark does not have a Christmas story. It begins with Jesus already grown up. But he's the same Jesus. Instead of shepherds, Mark's Gospel has prostitutes and tax collectors.
Take Levi, for example. Levi worked for Herod. There were lots of Herods in the days of Jesus. Each of the Herods claimed to be King of the Jews. No Herod was popular.
Levi worked in a tax booth near Capernaum. It's a border area, so Levi was collecting a border toll. Herod wants his tolls. People remembered crossing that border for free in the past. Now they have to pay. So who do they grumble at, or shout at, or swear at?
Then Jesus comes along. He does not grumble or shout or swear. He does something radically unexpected. He says, "Follow me." And, amazingly, Levi does it.
So now Levi hangs out with a different sort of King of the Jews. It's Jesus, so of course they have a big dinner party for all comers. Jesus always does stuff like that. The upright, uptight religious leaders don't like it. "Why does he eat with such people?" they ask. They'd be okay, barely, if they would repent and change their ways. But they have not done that yet.
So Jesus is very, very clear: God's forgiveness always comes first. God's forgiveness is offered as a gift, even before repentance. God's forgiveness comes before we can change our ways.
Eating with Jesus is a gift. Eating with Jesus is not a reward for changing your ways. Eating with Jesus is a way to be with him and to follow him.
So that's why we have our outlaw policy here at St. Mark's. Church rules say that only baptized people get to share the bread and cup.
Baptism is great, and I recommend it to all my friends. But if eating with Jesus is a gift, and if eating with Jesus is not a reward for changing your ways, and if eating with Jesus is a way to be with him and to follow him, then we better offer it to anyone who shows up.
Maybe it's against the current rules of the church. Maybe eating this way is a subversive activity. Maybe following Jesus is a subversive activity.
You know what I like about you? You don't just talk about being generous and compassionate. You do it.
We had an overwhelming response to the request for children's Christmas gifts for some victims of the hurricane. I know Karen King, our Sunday school teacher who led the charge, was stunned by the number of boxes we shipped to the church in Texas which became our heart partner. I coulda told her what would happen. You turn on the faucet here at St. Mark's and ask people to give, you'll find it's hard to turn off the spicket!
And at the same time, you were bringing in all kinds of items for the jail ministry at the request of Deacon Dorothy Pierce. She is so happy about your generosity.
And another thing...Next Sunday is Christmas Eve. It's the fourth Sunday of the month, so St. Mark's is on for hosting the Feeding Canteen down at Trinity Church. This is a weekly hot meal for some of our city neighbors who are down on their luck. You gotta figure it would be hard to get a full crew to work on the morning of Christmas Eve.
Not at St. Mark's. We had so many people want to help, I had to take down the sign-up sheet because it was too full!
I love this church.
Following Jesus is a subversive activity.
Making sure that everyone -- EVERYONE -- gets fed is a subversive activity.
Christmas -- the true Christmas -- is a subversive activity.
I am honored to be with you, you bunch of subversives.