A Sermon preached for Christmas Eve for December 24, 2018, St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas
Perhaps you saw the 2006 movie, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby with Will Ferrell. Although a complete goofball, Ricky Bobby earned millions as a successful race car driver. In one scene he sits down to dinner with his family and best friend, and Ricky Bobby says grace. He starts out, “Dear Lord Baby Jesus…we thank you for this bountiful harvest of Dominoes, KFC and the always delicious Taco Bell .…” Later he continues, “Dear 8-pound, 6-ounce newborn baby Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant, so cuddly, but still omnipotent, we’d just like to thank you for all these races I’ve won… Dear tiny Jesus with your golden fleece diapers…”
When his wife criticizes Ricky Bobby for praying to the infant Jesus, reminding him that Jesus grew up, Ricky Bobby says, “Look, I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I’m sayin’ grace. When you say grace, you can say it to Grownup Jesus or Teenage Jesus or Bearded Jesus…I like the baby version the best, you hear me?”
Even though it was played for humor, I think Ricky Bobby is on to something. In the frenzy of holiday busyness, have we ever really taken the time to absorb what it means for God to come to us as an 8 lb, 6 oz newborn baby? The God of the cosmos, pressing down into such a minute form, and then coming into the world in the most human of ways, through a young unmarried woman. A newborn infant—so beautiful and innocent, eyes wide with wonder, and so dependent--completely dependent on human care and love for survival. Why would God do this?
Because God knows—no one can resist the draw of newborn baby. God draws near to us in vulnerability to woo us into loving him. God comes in love, through love, because of love, as an infant—God woos into loving him—becoming a God we can’t resist. It isn’t fair is it? Who can turn away from a baby? We’re all drawn to the manger—from the working poor of the shepherds, to the wealthy and wise foreigners following the light that shines over the God of love.
Imagine walking with the shepherds or riding with the sages to the animal shed where angels sing and starlight twinkles. You kneel in the straw and inch forward to see the baby in his young mother’s strong and tender arms. You can’t resist that face—a fresh, holy gift of life. You ask Mary if you can hold her son, and she opens her arms and passes you the bundle of sweet-smelling hope. You hold the Lord God in your arms and marvel at his gaze of wonder, and expectation. God’s gift for you, wrapped in the swaddling cloths of love.
All he needs from you is your love. All those images of God’s judgment melt away, and you remember, you remember that “faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.” Our God comes in tenderness, in infancy, to invite you to be love-drawn rather than fear-driven.* It’s the only response we can imagine in the face of a newborn—to be love-drawn. Jesus gazes up at you, dependent, hoping…you lean over and draw him close, and kiss face of God.
This is the essence of human community: to hold one another in love and behold the face of God—to be love-drawn rather than fear-driven. Every baby we behold—whether our own child or grandchild, a niece or nephew, a neighbor down the street or a child in our Sunday School, is a sacred reminder that God comes to woo us in love. Today, Jesus still comes in vulnerability, depending on us for his survival, and to share the incarnation of his love.
As we hold the baby Jesus in our arms, we can imagine moving into tomorrow and next year letting go of fear and embracing love. The tiny baby Jesus in “his golden fleece diapers,” comes to you in tenderness, asking you to love him in return, and to keep his grace and love alive in the world.
*The phrase, "love-drawn rather than fear driven" comes from Fr. Richard Rohr