Carl Sandberg once wrote that, "A child is God's opinion that the world should continue." That is true for every "child of earth" except the Christ Child. The Christ Child, however, is more than God's opinion, this Child is God's final verdict that the world and all that dwell therein should be revived and renewed. And so God's agenda in Jesus Christ and God's agenda in each of us who rejoice at Christ's birth is considerably more ambitious.
That this Child was born to die has become almost a clichĂ©. It is true, of course. The first gulp of air a child breathes when coming into the world initiates a rhythmic countdown to that last gasp of air one breathes when leaving the world. Humanity implies mortality, and when God becomes human, God is bound to death.
But the Christ Child was not merely born to die. The Christ Child was born for resurrection: First, his own, then, ours, and then, through us who are filled with his Spirit, the whole world. "Born to raise each child of earth," is what we, and the herald angels, sing. That is God's agenda for our world.
More than two millennia have now passed since
that first Christmass night. Two thousand-plus years of change and "progress." Yet so much remains the same. In those days, the struggle for leadership was just as messy and the legitimacy of leaders just as questionable as it is today. The names alone tell that story: Octavian also known as Augustus; Herod, also known as "the Great;" Quirinius, now known as "the obscure." In those days, just as in this day, one great power held sway, imposing its form of government, its culture, its language, its values -- its Pax -- on every nation, tribe, and people (or so they believed) of the earth. Recently a distinguished church leader from the developing world labeled ours a "culture of dissatisfaction" where those in control demand greater control; where those who have the latest, the best, and the most can never have enough; and where the least, the last, and the lost still look and long, and cry out for deliverance -- as it was in those days so this day it is the same.
"This day." When God speaks and acts, it is always for this day. To the shepherds in the field and to us: "To you is born, this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." To those in Nazareth and those in New York: "This day this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." To
Zacchaeus in his sycamore tree and to us around our Christmas trees, "This day salvation has come to your house." To the thief at the hour of his death and to us at our Baptism, in the Eucharist, in every moment of our lives, and at the hour of our death: "This day you will be with me in Paradise."
We do not gather here this day to commemorate an event from those days for too consign the Word made flesh to the dustbin of history is to consign ourselves and our world to that same fate. That is not God's ambition -- that is not God's agenda -- for the church, the city, the world or for you or for me.
"To you is born this day" -- not just "in those days," but this day -- "a Savior who is Christ the Lord." Born this day to die our death so that in Baptism we can die his death and be raised to a new life; and just as importantly this day to live that new life and shape the city's life with God's ambition according to God's agenda.
"Born to raise each child of earth," is not only a spiritual and individual agenda, it is also a social and corporate agenda. It is not only about each "child of earth," but also about every child of
earth. It is not only about our life hereafter, but also about our life in this here-and-now. "Born to raise each child of earth" is the goal of every administration ("the government shall be upon his shoulders"); it is the task of all education ("to see a great light"); it is the purpose of every judiciary ("to judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with truth"); it is the ultimate goal of every economy ("you have multiplied the nation, they rejoice before you as with the joy of the harvest"); and it is the vocation of every individual and every community of faith ("to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly"). "Born to raise each child of earth" is God's ambition and agenda for the whole world.
And so, this day, Jesus Christ is born for us, not of flesh and blood, "to bear and fight and die," but of Word and Spirit, in bread and wine, here and now; born in us to nourish us that we may in our turn raise each child of earth.
This day, Christ is born for us and in us; and we have come here to worship him, though not alone. We come accompanied by every child of earth whom God has raised. We have come surrounded by saints who sing God's praise and angels who proclaim God's peace. This day Christ
is born for us. This day Christ is born in us; born to raise each child of earth; born to make all people one; born to set all people free.
Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York