Nativity stained glass window

Unlikely: A Christmas message

(Isaiah 9:2-7, 11:1-10; Matthew 2:1-11, Luke 2:1-20; John 1:1-14) By Rev. Rick King—You and I are coming to the end of a year of unlikely events. Things we thought would never happen. Whether political, social, or personal, in five minutes, each of us could probably develop a list of several things that defied our expectations, for good or ill, and made us rethink how we view the world, human nature, and expectation itself.

The online magazine Gizmodo recently chronicled a whole bunch of unlikely, futuristic things that are actually present realities predicted in a not-so-distant past, things happening right now, largely in the science and technology realm; and I’ve added to this list from what I’ve observed or read about in the news or on podcasts this year: They include advances in Artificial Intelligence, voice and face recognition, a functional artificial womb, robot soldiers and drone aircraft, gene therapy, neural interface technologies, and self-driving cars.

“Likelihood” can sometimes be over-rated, when the unlikely comes to pass.

Although you and I have become anesthetized to the stories we read at Christmas, to the point where the raw power of what was predicted and happened is lost on us, and replaced by a gurgling child and beaming parents amid an admiring circle of friends—let’s just stop for a minute and think of what our readings have narrated for us: A long-displaced people Israel returning home after several generations of having their own nation occupied by a foreign power and their leaders held hostage in a faraway country; the promise of a just, kind, and godly leader, the likes of which they hadn’t had in hundreds of years; two high-risk pregnancies, one because the mother was so young, homeless, and traveling with her fiancée, who is not the father of her child; the other high-risk because the mother is too old, long past her childbearing years; a birth announced by angelic beings, of which sheepherders spread the word, which occurs in a cattle-shed far away from home, accompanied by highly unusual astronomical phenomena, in the midst of an infanticide order by a paranoid ruler, which drew animals, their caretakers, and foreign guest bringing useless but priceless gifts, who are all the more notable because they foiled the paranoid king’s plot to have the child that was born killed.

Oh, and the baby resulting from the OTHER high-risk pregnancy, that of the too-aged mother? He ends up being the key witness to the other birth, which is described rhapsodically in metaphors like “Word made flesh,” and “light which is not overcome by darkness.”

Find an “unlikely” person, cause, or movement this year: bring it close to your heart; nurture it; champion it; give it some tender loving care; and tell others about it, and why it’s important to you.

You see, the “unlikely” invites us into an act of religious imagination, into the birthing of a reality wholly different than the one we might be witnessing now, in the world around us. HOPE is like that; HOPE majors in the unlikely. HOPE does not disappoint. HOPE changes things. It brings about revolutions in consciousness, changes in worldview, actions that transform lives, relationships, and the planet.

The rebirth of hope in our hearts is what we celebrate tonight. As we witness to that hope, let us make it so! Amen.