In the name of our Savior, our Messiah, our Lord. Amen.
A frightened young woman, far away from her mother, cries out with pain and fear as the midwife eases the infant into the world. A small, helpless baby boy is born: bloody, squalling, shivering, and none too pretty.
This isn't a very sentimental picture, is it? It would never make the front of a Hallmark Christmas card. But I think this picture is probably pretty close to what really happened that night.
Jesus was born into a rude world, into a place where animals gathered to spend the night under a little bit of shelter. Jesus was born into a world where poverty and warfare and callousness were everyday realities. Where a jealous ruler sought to have him killed and where he and his family were forced to become refugees as they ran for their lives. Where a Roman army occupied the land. These conditions surely weren't ideal. But maybe that's the point. Jesus came into a struggling and boorish world. And he comes still into ours.
We heard in the gospel story once again that an angel appeared to shepherds out in the fields. And what did the angel announce? Merely the most stupendous news that's ever broken out into human history—good news of great joy for all the people. And the angel called the newborn child "the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord." I'm afraid that for most of us, these words are so overused and so seemingly outdated that they may have lost their significance altogether. Savior, Messiah, Lord. So what?
Let's take a look at these 3 titles for Jesus. And let's go backwards, just for fun, shall we?
First, The Lord. A Lord is someone who is a master or a ruler.
Next, the Messiah. This refers to the One who is chosen or anointed by God to rescue or deliver God’s people. The word "Messiah" is from the Hebrew. Its Greek equivalent is "Christos," from which we get our word Christ. Jesus Christ means Jesus the Messiah.
And now that title "Savior." To our ears it may sound outdated, or else hopelessly Evangelical. It's not a word that sits easily with many of us. It just seems so foreign to Episcopal ears. But it sits at the heart of all flavors of Christianity.
What does it mean to need a Savior? Here's one real-world example that I hope will give us some insight. Have you heard in the news about the 7-year-old girl from Aleppo, Syria, named Bana al-Abed? She became a social media sensation in the months leading to the fall of Aleppo. She and her mother would tweet video and text messages via Twitter from the besieged city during the worst of the destruction. One of her tweets sent out all around the globe was a plaintive cry for a Savior. It read, “Please, save us, thank you.” Absolutely heartbreaking. And the West has not been able to save Aleppo.
I think that each of us cannot imagine what it would be like to have a child in such a place, in constant mortal danger. I heard the other day that she and her family got out of Aleppo safely, which is wonderful. But, of course, so many others have not been that fortunate. 500,000 persons have perished there, pawns in a terrible war. May God comfort those who have died and their families. May God ease the way for those who now are refugees in their own country and elsewhere.
Bana knew they need a Savior. Such terrible knowledge came from a dreadful understanding of her people’s powerlessness--their own inability to save themselves. I think that's the first step in knowing we need a Savior, too: once we understand our ultimate powerlessness, then where else shall we turn?
In our fast, technology-penetrated world we often feel in charge of what happens to us. We're used to taking the bull by the horns and making things happen, aren't we? And it's precisely when our lives are humming along well that we don't feel any need whatever for a Savior, of for faith, for that matter.
Once we begin to experience the dark side of the world and our own powerlessness -- then we begin to see our need for help from outside or from above, if you will. And when we begin to wonder at deeper and deeper levels about the big questions, we open our own inner doors to the idea that we do need help from someone else who can save us. I'm talking about the big questions like "why am I here? Am I supposed to be something more?" And "why is there so much evil and suffering in the world, and am I adding to it?" And of course the most profound question, "What happens when we die? Do we just stop being? Surely there must be more, right?"
There comes a time in our lives when we begin to wonder about such things. And if we're very lucky we'll begin to see that we're not the always-powerful people we thought we were. Left to our own devices we are NOT enough. We can easily mess things up. We fall short. We don’t have the wisdom we’d like.
A Savior draws us up out of meaninglessness or nihilism. A Savior pulls us up from our self-absorption, our propensity to be petty and mean-spirited and selfish. A Savior pulls us up from our love of money for its own sake, our resorting to drinking or our buying more and more stuff in order to mask the pain we feel. A Savior shows us that we exist here for each other and for the pleasure of God.
So here's a question for us tonight. Shall we choose to be frozen in sentimental squeaky-clean Christmas card images or might we dare to go deeper, to see the Savior of the world born into a dirty and gritty life for us?
In a world wrapped in fear and dismay may we run to Jesus for strength and courage to live nobly and above all, to find ultimate meaning. And may God be comforting all the victims of warfare and other kinds of suffering that proceed from human callousness. May we learn to do the same. Amen.