The day after Christmas is nearly unavoidably anticlimactic. The presents have been opened, television programming seems blasphemously normal, and mom and dad get to experience what presents the children actually enjoy and which presents they said they wanted but have not yet bothered to acknowledge. This year on the day after Christmas, Christie and I went to see Les Miserables at the movie theater. It is an extraordinary movie, especially in the way the actors conveyed and the director captured emotion. Most of the shots in the film were very tight zooms of the actors’ faces; consequently the audience receives a strong sense of identity from each character. You can almost feel in your own gut Jean Valjean’s struggle to figure out who he is.
When the movie begins, Valjean is a criminal on the eve of his parole after serving nineteen years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s child. I don’t intend for this to be a spoiler, because the musical has been on stage since 1987 and the novel has been on the shelf since 1862, but by the end of the movie, this hardened criminal Valjean, is able to sing, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” The Christmas story is a story about a God with a face, a God who has become incarnate so that we might know how to love God and love each other, so that we might know redemption, forgiveness, love, and mercy. This God with a face offers us a beautiful tension, at least, as far as our minds are able to capture. When the infinite assumes the finite, when the almighty is emptied, when the divine puts on flesh, a dance ensues. The dance between the human and the divine moves throughout our text today, offering us a glimpse of the mystery of the person of Christ.
In our first verse we are told that Jesus and his family traveled every year to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. Luke has already created a dance floor. The family is in Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. There is a disconnect between the festival and the Passover. The Passover was God’s divine action of saving the Israelites in Egypt. The festival is humanity’s response to what God has done. Sometimes there can be a great disconnect between God’s action and humanity’s response. There is the birth of Christ and then there is Christmas. There is the God putting on flesh and there is our Rudolph, Red-nosed response. After all, it’s National Associate Pastor Sunday, or N.A.P. Sunday. Senior Pastors across the globe know that the damage from their associate’s sermon will be minimal. I’m being too critical, and I’m preaching to the choir. Setting the story during the festival of the Passover is Luke’s way of saying that this is a story of how the human and the divine have come together as one in a beautiful and complimentary dance of resurrection in which we are invited to follow.
When the festival had ended, the family went on their way and realized the day after that Jesus wasn’t there. Now, if I had left Isabelle somewhere, well, Isabelle would probably take a cab and beat me home. Luke is not making a comment on effective parenting. Luke knows that a day after the festival, the day after Christmas, we live our life as usual and forget that we’ve left Jesus in the sanctuary. It’s like giving your daughter an educational video game system without batteries, so the gift is placed on the shelf until daddy can remember to get batteries, and you pray that after returning with batteries that your daughter has not forgotten about the gift all together. Without batteries, it’s as if you hadn’t given the gift at all. Unless we live into the gift of the Christ child, it can be as if the gift hadn’t been given. Now, I’m going to brag on the River band for a moment because the way they offered Silent Night on Christmas Eve was beautiful. It began with Ben playing a solo acoustic guitar. At the end of the song, the other band member came into the chancel and they played a full-out two step that made you want to dance out of the sanctuary and into the world. It may have been a silent night, but it wasn’t silent for long. That simple silent night started a revolution across the world. And the fact that it was a two-step—it was as if the human and the divine, as if we and God were dancing together in the joy of salvation finally coming into the world.
After three days (don’t ever miss that) they find him in the Temple. His mother said, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” Can I say that I think we have the censored version of this story? I remember when I was in 5th grade, I was walking home from school and decided to stop at a friend’s house to play video games. Of course, I told no one where I was. Several hours later when I finally got to my street, I noticed my mother pacing in the driveway. How odd it was that mother was taking an afternoon stroll, I thought. When my mother saw me, she ran out to me as a Prodigal Mother, offering me the warmest hug I’ve ever received . . . followed by the most swift spanking I’ve ever received. It was a syllabic spanking, you know, the kind when mom swipes you with each syllable and you hope she will remember that Harpo Marx had quite a career using no words at all . . .
Notice the dance that’s going on. “Your father and I have been searching.” “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them, and that’s the key.
Jesus’ first word in the Gospel of Luke is “Why.” “Why were you searching for me?” In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus first says, “Let it be,” to John who, at first, declines to baptize Jesus. “Let it be.” Does that not remind you of creation? God’s divinity is shining through when Jesus first speaks in Matthew, but in Luke, Jesus speaks the most human word of all . . . “Why.” There is no other word about which more ink has been spilled. Jesus begins by asking humanity’s most basic question—“Why?” At the end of the Gospel after the Resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples and says, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. Jesus begins with a human “why,” and then ends with a divine unlocking of mystery. The dance is complete and Jesus sends the disciples forth to teach the world how to move with the Holy Spirit.
Jesus takes on our human “why?” and redeems it with a holy and resurrected answer of love and service. The dance between the human and the divine is complete in the person of Jesus and the blessing is that God invites us to be partners in this dance. On the last Sunday of Advent we lit the candle of Joy and I asked Isabelle what “Joy” means. She said, “It means happy enough to dance.” It is not enough to watch the dance. Only watching the dance is like forgetting the batteries or leaving Jesus in the sanctuary on the second day of Christmas. When we go out into the world and dance with Christ we too will discover the truth of Valjean’s epiphany: to love another person is to see the face of God.” As we dance and teach the world to dance, may we see the face of God in all we meet. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.