Christmas Eve 2011
Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96
Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20
“Occupy” seems to be the word of the year. Starting with the uprisings of the “Arab spring,” protests seemed to bubble up the world over – protests against dictators, against income inequality, against debt, against corporate greed and against leaders who seemed to do nothing about those things. It is hard to know what will come of this movement, or even it if is a movement. It is hard even to know what all these occupiers had in common – other than a determined and at times joyful hope that the world, as bad as it is, could be a better place.
Hannukah and Christmas have nothing to do with each other, in terms of the origins of each festival in our respective religions traditions. It’s not like Easter and Passover – Jesus was in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover when he went to face his death. Christmas, or the observance of Jesus’ birth, was not celebrated on any fixed day until the church came to inhabit the boundaries of the old Roman Empire. There was always some confusion between the return of the sun, the rise of the sun – “SUN” – god and the birth of the son – SON” – of God, and the church just kind of went with that confusion. As Christianity spread north it made sense to use the existing festivities around the solstice and the return of the sun, a powerful sign of hope in the dark and cold and want of winter. Christmas became a sign of resistance to an oppressive darkness in hopes of a brighter spring.
That is where we begin to see the theological connection between Hannukah and Christmas. Hannukah is a festival of resistance and of light. When Jewish militants finally overthrew the Hellenized occupiers of the Temple – who had defiled it with altars to pagan gods -- they cleansed the Temple and found enough oil to burn the candles for one day. God blessed the miracle of this new occupation, and these righteous Jewish occupiers, by giving them enough oil to burn the lights for eight days. As Judaism spread north throughout Europe, this Hannukah celebration of the triumph God’s righteous ones over their political and religious oppressors also became a sign of hope in a dark and cold world.
Enveloped as Christmas is by thousands of years of traditions, it is easy to forget its simple, yet revolutionary origins. God in all of God’s divine majesty chose to come to earth, to occupy, as it were, the body of one poor peasant woman long enough for her to give birth to a child. This little boy, this Jesus, is Emmanuel, God with us. God dwelling with us. God pitching God’s tent, as it were, in the Zuchotti Park of a barn in the back of an inn in Bethlehem. We forget that the reason that Mary and Joseph had to make this difficult journey in the first place was because of the political and military occupation of Palestine by the Roman Empire, and its arbitrary rules that all should be enrolled, so that all could be taxed.
Think about it: God could have chosen to be born in a much nicer place, where more people could have heard about him and taken care of him. But no: God chose to be born in a rough and vulnerable place, among people who were outsiders and rabble-rousers. Call to mind the words his young mother said, when she learned that she would bear this child: he will bring down the mighty from their thrones and exalt the humble and meek. He will fill the hungry with good things, and send the rich empty away.
God chose to be born not among those who would politely wait their turn for the privileges they knew were theirs. God chose to be born among those who were hungry, and impatient, among people who took risks because they had nothing to lose and everything to gain. God chose to be born in a makeshift tent in an occupied zone, and his birth made those people wild with hope and joy -- hope that God is moving once again with a mighty hand, and joy that the revolution has begun.
This occupy movement began small 2000 years ago – began among the poor and the humble, and among people who knew God intended better things for them and for the world. The 1% of those days cared not a fig for them. Depending on how you divide up today’s world, all of us here could be considered among the 1%. But we are here tonight because we have heard the angels sing. “Good news,” they say. “Good news for all.” We are here tonight because in our hearts we are among the 99%, hopeful indeed that the world can be the bright and shining place God created it to be.