Sermon: Christmas As An Inside Joke

Being the season of Advent, a season of purposeful waiting, it tends to get a bit serious. Everything is more solemn right now, the songs we sing with Dan leading are more depressing about longing and waiting and for the most part we just want to dive into the Christmas spirit and quit being so serious. With Advent there is a overwhelming allowance for a certain kind of tragedy and honesty where we acknowledge that the world is messed up. This is kind of the entire Christian story that we come from. There is lots of tragedy. Story after story has these really dark sides. Eve eating the apple, Cain killing Able, Noah getting drunk, Joseph getting thrown in a hole, and that’s just Genesis….the stories are never ending and there is so much sadness in them. Our own lives are similar. There is lots of sadness. Our spouse is drunk again, we are having trouble sleeping, our kid is getting bad grades, our uncle died, we got in a car accident, our house burned down, we had a miscarriage. So much tragedy.

Advent hits us every year at the same time and emphasizes this tragedy simply by just acknowledging it exists and we are waiting for something else. If we are waiting for something, for God, for Jesus, then it’s because whatever life is like before that is worse than what it will be like when God shows up. To acknowledge that we are waiting is admitting that we need something, that it’s out of our control and that we are hopeful that it will all be remedied. So Advent is this season of exactly that. We acknowledge the mess that we find ourselves in. We join into the longing of history throughout the scriptures and beyond of people who have also found themselves in similar messes. Make us new! Redeem all things! Fix this mess! And we wait, and wait for it to happen.

Then finally. Christmas comes. It’s not the date that is important but it’s the climax of our waiting. Finally all that we have longed for is about to be taken care of. The best part though is that the wait is over. So we wake up early and we get excited because it is finally here.

Q: What are we waiting for? Has everything that we’ve been waiting for really found it’s fulfillment in what is there waiting for us that morning? Does anyone feel disappointed on Christmas day?

In a lot of ways, like I said, we are acting in solidarity with those who have gone before us in the act of waiting. Israel is the most common example to point to. The entire nation was longing, hoping, waiting for their Saviour to come and free them from the Romans – from the heavy hand that made their life so difficult. Story after story of them being enslaved and wandering in the desert and just waiting for God to come through. We’ve talked about it before. What they were waiting for. A revolutionary. A messiah to come riding in on a horse and lead their nation into victory once and for all.

Christmas is a time when we acknowledge the waiting coming to fruition. Israel’s hope is finally here! Our hope is finally here! And this is what I want to talk about this morning. In a lot of ways, the end to all this waiting is a pretty big let down. Think about it. What is finally here? The messiah. A little baby boy born to nonames. The culmination of hope of thousands of years of history is finally here and what is the story we get? Let’s read the story from Luke’s gospel.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Now listen, I don’t know about you. But this has got to be one of the worst entrances into the world that a revolutionary Messiah could ever have made. There is just hint after hint at how ridiculous this whole thing is. Babies born in barns with rag tag shepherds showing up and angels (which many wouldn’t have even believed in) showing up and caroling isn’t really anyone’s idea of a Messiah showing up. We’ve talked a lot about how the story of Jesus showing up and then eventually dying really doesn’t do well to fulfill the hopes of Israel. They were hoping for a revolutionary to destroy their enemies. But more than that, we have to remember that Jesus being born is supposed to be our fulfillment of hope as well. So all the things that go wrong in our life, day in and day out, all the longing we have, all the death and suffering, it is supposed to find it’s fulfillment in the Savior of the World. And what do we get on Christmas day? We get a mom who can’t even make it into a hotel so she gets thrown into a barn where she has her kid and then these dirty shepherd men show up to congratulate her (with no gifts of course) because they said they saw some angels. Talk about the grand disappointment. Not just for Israel, but for us as well.

This is what I wanted to convince you of today. That this whole gospel deal is kind of one big joke. It doesn’t make any sense. It is the opposite of logical. The only reason though that we are here and that we wait during Advent is because we are in on the joke. That’s it. Now before you start going and getting your panties in a bunch, why don’t we see what Paul has to say about it, just so you don’t think that I’m being a blasphemous heretic over here.

1 Cor 1:18-31
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

All Paul is really telling us here, is that we are crazy, God is crazy, but at least we are all crazy together. He makes a mockery of intelligence. Of anyone who thinks clear headed and he will frustrate the hell out of smart people. Not only that, he seems to be talking directly to a whole group of washups. Not many of you were smart, or influential or from royalty. OK OK Paul, thanks man, thanks for the pick up. He isn’t talking to a room full of doctors and engineers. This is a group of misfits. That’s the whole joke. If you think it’s for you because you deserve it. Joke’s on you. It’s not. It’s for those that are so messed up and knee deep in their own crap that you barely even knew they existed. Remember when we did the parables? Every single one of them had the losers on top and the most unlikely of characters getting into the party. Every single one of them turned upside down the regular way of looking at power, relationships and love. It got to a point where we were getting annoyed because it seemed like Jesus was being a one trick pony with these stories. We got it. The Samaritan, the accidental treasure found, the one lost sheep, the small little mustard seed, the equal wages, the younger brother getting the party. It’s all there. Every single story Jesus tells is a joke and it makes no sense.

All of his parables can be told as jokes because they essentially about is the outlandishness of God who does impossible things with impossible people.
-Frederick Buechner

Now I don’t think Paul is saying it’s illogical and smart people won’t understand it because God is somehow trying to trick people into going to hell for being smart. It’s not like the theories that God created dinosaurs just to just to test us is what I’m talking about. What Paul is doing here is alluding to the Christian belief that humans naturally have a way about them. They seek to survive, take care of themselves, and are naturally selfish and sinful only looking out for their own good. They have created their own logic for the way the world has run and given themselves power to order it the way they want. In a lot of ways it’s like the world now. Humanity runs rampant trampling over each other, the rich get their way, the poor fight for their lives, the powerful order their countries the way that benefits them. The more successful you are, the more friends you have and the more people that like you. It’s the same sad old story no matter where you look.

I stumbled across this map this week if you need proof that this world still exists. This is our city of Sarnia, and the coloured dots are police calls and crimes that have happened around the city for the month of October. Now I don’t want to start a class war over this, but this map pretty clearly shows that the world still moves on in the way it did in Paul’s time. We all know that the south end is a lower socio-economic class. We’ve all been aware of the stigma that comes with living there. Just ask my wife. I show you this map so you can realize that these forces of how the world works and the logical ways that it unfolds are still strong. The wealthy and the poor live two very different ways. When I go to city planning meetings or to business gatherings I am always met by the exact same people and over and over again I watch (and sometimes participate in) as the wealthy and successful gain power and try to order their worlds so that they are more comfortable and taken care of. Just look at the neighbours around the homeless shelter at the vineyard.

Sarnia Mind Map

So the foolishness that Paul is talking about here is absolutely foolish to anyone who is caught up in this way of understanding the world. If Jesus showed up today and told all the north enders to move into the south end and put their families at risk to all this crime. If Jesus showed up and told the neighbours of the homeless shelter to take the homeless people into their own homes. If Jesus told the business people to give away all their money and give it to someone living on Queen Street who is addicted to drugs. The answer everything single time would be laughter. It is preposterous. It is hilarious, illogical and foolish.

Q: Has the Christmas story ever seemed a bit strange to you? Does it seem kind of like a joke? Is it hard for you to sympathize with those that find the story to be made up? Is it hard to see how Baby Jesus has anything to do with your life now?

Let me approach this from a different angle. I really don’t think this is as insane as you might all think. I think that God enjoys the joke. I think he enjoys the laughter a bit. Let’s read a little bit about this story.

Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.

Now this whole ordeal happens a few times and one time Sara loses it as well and can’t control her laughter and then God even asks her did you laugh and catches her in it. Now one thing you probably didn’t know is that the name ‘Isaac’ means ‘he laughs.’ Hearing this story we probably all have assumed that God was pissed off because he wasn’t taken seriously. But maybe there is more going on here. Maybe God thought the whole ordeal was thinking it was hilarious as well. She is ninety years old after all. We think it’s absurd when a forty year old gets pregnant. Double it! God doesn’t seem to get mad at the laughter at all, he almost seems to join into the middle of it because he wants the name of the son to be called ‘he laughs.’

From this point out, the whole story seems to be a comedy of errors of God picking all the wrong people to do his bidding. People have made jokes about the Jews even, they were more religious than any other nation one day and then more secular than any other the next. They were probably the worst group of people to pick for his people. God makes this beautiful declaration later on that says “i will be your god and you will be my people” and give the ten commandments and before he barely can finish what he has to say the Israelites are doing the Macarena around a golden calf and getting all excited about fertility gods. God, being all knowing and everything, you’d think he’d pick a better crew to represent him. But he doesn’t. He picks a nation of buffoons who can’t get their shit together and consistently fail and do everything that they aren’t supposed to do.

It’s not just with Israel as a whole either. It’s every story in between. Picking the responsible and older Esau than the trickster Jacob? Samson falling for the same trick over and over again? Rahab a prostitute? David dancing like a lunatic and killing people for girls on rooftops? Solomon and his 300+ concubines? C’mon. This is literally a group of idiots who in no way should be representing the creator of the universe let alone be the heroes in a historical document documenting the history of our faith. We brush over the stories quite a bit when we teach our children, but when you really read them, it’s nothing but a bunch of goofs making bad moves that always need to be bailed out.

I get that this whole sermon might actually be offensive to some of you. Most of us were raised hearing these stories and trying to have nothing but respect for the whole story and the heroes of the Bible. But this year, after six years of preaching sermons trying to help remove our blinders, I think we are going to be let in on the joke. We picked the wrong faith if we want to win or come out on top or think that we have all the answers. It’s the divine joke. Let’s just go through some of the examples of the things we take out of scripture if I haven’t proven my point already.

  • Hating to love
  • Freedom through slavery
  • Weakness as Strength
  • Giving to Gain
  • The Last will be First
  • The Consumer is Consumed
  • Let go to Hold on
  • Embracing our Sorrow we find our Joy
  • Silence can Speak Volumes just as Words can Say Nothing
  • You Can’t Keep Love because Love isn’t Love until you give it away
  • Dying to Live

It’s not just fun paradoxes to post on Facebook. These are cosmic paradoxical statements about reality that don’t make sense at first glance and in the world we live in, it’s an absolute joke of a way to look at the world. The world is about growth and progress and strength and power and money, and Jesus shows up and says sure if you want all those things do the opposite and everyone kind of looks at him and rolls over in laughter and continues on their merry way.

Here is where I want to end today. Remember the story of the last supper? Well here we have Jesus, about to get arrested and everyone is out looking for him. All his close friends and followers have bailed on him and they are hiding in a house eating the last dinner. The last one. And this is how he reassures everyone.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Says the one who goes and dies and leaves them all stranded. If this can’t be seen as a joke then I’m not sure what can. What is even a bigger joke is that he doesn’t play by any of the rules and he ends up being resurrected. So what does one do with this entire story? A man is born in a stable, claims to be God, runs around with a bunch of poor people and prostitutes turning water into wine and then eventually gets crucified all the while granting people salvation as he dies. This story is not meant to make sense. This story is meant to confound and irritate those who want or need straight answers and for their intuitions to be right. This story is meant to flip upside down all the old ways of seeing things. This story is meant to lift up everyone and everything that has been pushed down and level the playing field. There is no other way to see the gospel and what God is up to when you look at it from the point of view of the world. It absolutely it a joke and it’s an offensive joke as well. Because guess what! Remember the re-write Joe made of the sermon on the mount? I think it’s suitable again here.

Happy are the murders and child molesters
Happy are the brutal and the bigoted
Happy are the drug lords and pornographers
Happy are the criminals, the terrorists the perverted the filthy, and the filthy rich
Happy is rapist Paul Bernardo
Happy is the Taliban and Osama bin Laden
Happy is North Korea’s criminally insane Kim Jon-Il
Happy is BP and its oil covered hands

Is it possible, I wonder, to say that it is only when you hear the Gospel as a wild and marvelous joke that you really hear it at all? Heard as anything else, the Gospel is the church’s thing, the preacher’s thing, the lecturer’s thing. Heard as a joke–high and unbidden and ringing with laughter–it can only be God’s thing.
– Frederick Buechner

So this Christmas may you be in on the joke. May you be on the right side of the joke. May you see the gospel for the ridiculousness that it is and be offended. May you find all your hope in the promise of a baby in a manger and the announcement that all wrongs will be turned to right! May you take heart that even though we don’t deserve it, we haven’t done anything to earn it, we are sinners, we are liars and we hate everything that is good that God is going to save us anyway because he doesn’t want to laugh into eternity all by himself.