Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas Eve Sermon: "Imago Immanuel" (December 24, 2019)

(The Conclusion of our Advent series on how we reflect God's Image)


During Advent this year, Boone Church has been exploring the ways that we reflect imago dei, the Image of God. The first week, we learned that our spirits reflect God by allowing us to know the unknowable. We heard John’s voice cry out in the wilderness for repentance, reminding us that our spirits can only reflect God when we’re willing to atone for those things that separate us from God. The second week, we discovered that our minds best reflect God when we set them free to wander, explore, and create. We sat with Joseph as he debated the path his life would take, realizing that a choice to do the right thing is also form of divine reflection. The third week, we found that our bodies reflect God not in their individual appearance or particular set of abilities, but in their capacity to care for others. We said “yes” with Mary to offering ourselves to God, knowing that every one of our bodies is loved and valued for themselves. And this past Sunday, we realized that the ultimate reflection of God is in the community that God gives us. We joined the shepherds in singing praises, remembering that only when every one of us is welcomed as part of a whole can we truly reflect God.

Throughout December, we’ve also been working on a community project to help these lessons stick a little better. Together, we colored a different image during coffee hour the first three weeks of Advent, each one representing a way we reflect God:

a flame to represent our spirits, 

a brain to represent our minds, 

and outlines of our hands to represent our bodies. 

This past Sunday, these three individual images were joined into a single work of art, creating a beautifully colored representation of ALL the ways that we reflect God in the world—spirit, mind, body, and (represented by our collective work) community.

If you didn’t have the opportunity to contribute to the project, don’t worry: part of our final task was to add color on behalf of those who weren’t with us, but who God claims as part of God’s community—that includes every one of you here today, as well as those who’ve never even stepped foot inside this building. God’s community has room for everyone.

So, after nearly a month of preparing our spirits, minds, bodies, and community to reflect God’s image through learning, reflecting, and (most importantly) coloring, I think tonight we’re about as ready as we’re ever gonna be. But now that we’re here, sitting in breathless anticipation with Mary and Joseph, waiting for Jesus, we have a moment to pause and reflect: what does any of this have to do with Christmas, anyway?

Well, as a matter of fact, it has EVERYTHING to do with Christmas. It’s the entire POINT of the incarnation. God didn’t come down to live among us for the purpose of displaying God’s power and might. We already knew about all that; we’ve already seen it in the wonder of creation, in the deliverance of the Jewish people from slavery, in the establishment of the kingdom of Israel, in the promises that God has kept time and time again against all odds. We already know that our God is a god of immeasurable power and might. We already know that we should be in constant awe of the divine. These are the things that separate us from God, that make us different. We already know all the ways that we are not like God.

But in the incarnation, God flipped the script. In the incarnation, God came down in humility and love to remind us that, for all the ways we’re not divine, we were still created, from the beginning, in God’s very image. In the incarnation, God reflects our own image back to us. In the incarnation, we’re reminded of the ways that we ARE like God, the ways that we’re capable of bringing divine light into the world, the ways that our imago dei isn’t just a nice idea—it’s a blessing and a responsibility.

When we talk about our imago dei, we’re talking about how God has made us so like Godself that in some ways and at some times, it can be hard to tell where our image stops and God’s image begins. And when we talk about the incarnation, we’re talking about God putting God’s money where God’s mouth is, so to speak: Christ is born to embody this sacred union between the human and the divine, to show us just how serious this connection is, and to overcome, once and for all, the sin that separates us. In Christ, God unites the human and the divine so completely that it’s impossible for us ever to be separated again.

Certainly, God COULD have saved us from our sin without the incarnation…and yet, this is the means by which God chooses to redeem us. God wants us to know that our imago dei isn’t just a gift to us; it’s a commitment to relationship with us and a promise to never, ever abandon us. Immanuel means “God with us”, so we know that God has cast God’s lot with ours, but because of humanity’s imago dei, we know it goes deeper than that. It’s God with us, God in us, God through us, God as us. We are so much more than just a faint echo of who God is. We’re flesh-and-blood proof of God’s presence in the world.

In contemplating the mystery of this mutual sacred reflection—humanity reflecting God reflecting humanity—St. Augustine wrote, “[Christ] was created of a mother whom he created. He was carried by hands that he formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy. He, the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute.” Being somehow both fully human and fully divine, Christ’s reflection of us in the incarnation completes that which God began in creation. He shows us how we’re meant to reflect God. He takes our imago dei and makes it impossible to ignore. He holds up a mirror to us, shows us who we are, and asks: “Will you join me?”

Tonight, the colorful image that we created to represent our imago dei has changed shape. What began as an image of us reflecting God is now an image of God reflecting back to us. 

Christ is a mirror that has come into the world to show us how to be transformed. When we see Jesus, we should see the divine image within us reflected back. Our spirits. Our minds. Our bodies. Our beloved communities. Our sacred potential. When we look at the Christ-child, we find the best parts of ourselves, the parts created in God’s image, looking back at us from his holy face. Let that reflection remind us both of our value in God’s eyes and of our responsibility to share God with the world. Friends, this is only the beginning. May Christ’s birth on this holy night remind us of who we are and whose we are. Amen.


Some details from our project:

 I like how "kindness" overlapped between the "body" and "mind" sections...because kindness is both a choice and an action.

This made my pastor heart happy :)

On the week that we talked about "spirit", I mentioned that there are lots of words, phrases, and images that people use to describe "spirit". One in particular was "God's ruach", or breath. I love how "God's breath" is written in the body section, because spirit and body are connected!

A simple reminder that PEOPLE are a reflection of God. Sometimes, in our frustration with others, it can be difficult to remember, but this reality is central to our faith. ALL of us, individually and collectively, are created in God's image <3

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