Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Eve Homily: Emergency!

John 1-5, 14

This time of year always makes me think about the way we celebrated Christmas when was a kid, and some of the gifts my parents gave me.

In the early 70s my favorite television show was called Emergency!. Those of us of a particular vintage will know this one as an action show where the main characters were two paramedics who rushed around Los Angeles saving people’s lives and looking heroic as they did it. I can still remember their names—Gage and DeSoto—and even the number of their rescue vehicle: Squad 51. One of the doctors in the show was played by Bobby Troup—he’s the guy who wrote the song, ‘Route 66.’ You can’t get this kind of detail just anywhere.

The whole concept of paramedics was new back then. Before these specially trained professionals became a regular part of local services, ambulances simply responded to calls, threw the injured person in the back of a station wagon, and took them to a hospital. The paramedics changed all that, along with the advent of the 911 or 999 emergency phone numbers.

Anytime you see ‘para’ in front of a word, it means ‘beside’ or ‘beyond’ or ‘alongside’. Paramedics worked beyond the reach of a hospital, alongside the care someone would get once they could be stabilized in the field. Countless lives have been saved by these men and women who go out to the injured or sick, and give life-saving treatment right where people need it most.

When I was 10, though, I didn’t know anything about the details. I just loved watching the TV show—for Christmas that year my parents gave me an Emergency lunchbox with a matching thermos. Somehow that lunchbox connected me to these guys swooping in and rescuing people in need.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Where Matthew and Luke explain the details of Jesus’ birth story, John explains the meaning behind Jesus’ birth and ministry. In John’s gospel there are no wise men, no shepherds, no baby in a manger. In John’s gospel you see why all of this happened.

John starts his gospel story by talking about The Word, the Logos, the ultimate truth about everyone and everything. He starts his gospel by teaching us that the Word—the one we know as Jesus Messiah—the Word has been there all along—he was the source of all things seen and unseen.

And then he throws in the kicker. In verse 14 John adds the part of the story that lets us know this isn’t like any other story.

Not everyone got it at first, but then again, not everyone recognizes greatness, even when it’s right in from of them.

Last week the Times of London ran a story on the first reaction by the BBC to some rock bands who went on to greatness.

‘Unconvincing derivative distortion’ was how they described Led Zeppelin when they auditioned to play for the BBC. That was roughly my mom’s reaction, too. But unless I’m wrong they went on to make some pretty good records.

When one young man tried out to perform they dismissed him as ‘a singer devoid of personality.’ That was David Bowie. Can you imagine a singer with a more unique series of personalities than Bowie? Maybe he hadn’t settled into Ziggy Stardust just yet.

Even the Rolling Stones didn’t make it through the audition stage the first time. Hard to imagine.

People have been responding to Jesus the same way since the very beginning, misunderstanding who he was—missing the point about what he offered.

So what’s the point of the Christmas story?

The coming of the Messiah as God’s answer to our 911/999 call. Like the emergency services we count on to save our lives and homes and to protect us from dangers, God comes to us. He offers us what we need to live and thrive and serve in his name.

The whole idea of God coming in human form has always tested my ability to get it at first—to understand what it means when the Scriptures teach us that:

‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.’

How often do we stop to think about what that means?

Alan and Blyden met almost 50 years ago in grade school in my hometown, Burbank, California. They were close friends all through high school, but didn’t have a lot of contact after that. Two years ago Alan was diagnosed with kidney disease, and got the news that he would die without a transplant.

Blyden, who lived in Utah with his family, heard about it through a friend, and after he visited his old friend he made a huge decision. He gave one of his kidneys to be transplanted into his friend—his gift made it possible for his friend to have a second chance on life, all because of this gift.

When he was asked why he did it, Blyden said ‘We just get one chance to live our lives and do good things. If this will give Alan his life back, then I’m going to do it.

Alan struggled to comprehend what his friend wanted to do for him. He said: ‘Thank you seems so inadequate.’

It’s a great story of friendship—of generosity and selflessness. These two guys who met in the 5th grade ended up being a part of each other’s lives forever.

The main point of the story is pretty simple: In order to save his friend, Blyden had to give something up—he had to enter into his friend’s life in a sacrificial way. He responded to his friend’s emergency by doing something beyond what anyone ever expected.

That’s what we see in the coming of Jesus.

That’s what we celebrate in the birth of the Messiah.

Sometimes, in order to save someone, you have to enter in, like a transplanted life-giving organ, in order to make it happen.

Christmas is one of those seasons in the year when we celebrate and reflect on something that’s really beyond our ability to understand. This miracle, though—this supernatural event—is God’s response to our need for reconciliation and restoration.

This is God’s answer to our emergency call, and my prayer for all of us is that we can accept the amazing gift being offered to us.

If you’re hearing this for the first time, then make this Christmas the year you accept the gift of Jesus Christ in your own life.

If you‘ve heard this story a thousand times before, but it’s making sense to you for the first time or in a new way, make this Christmas celebration personal as you commit yourself to Christ’s Kingdom.

Mostly, wherever you are in your journey of faith, don’t let another Christmas go by without seeing the Christ Child as the answer to your needs—the place where the hopes and fears of all the years are met.

May God bless you and keep you as we remember the birth of his son. Merry Christmas!

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