“A Divinely Absurd Christmas”
Rev. Chris Mereschuk
Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 24, 2017
As many of you have witnessed many times, I have an odd sense of humor. I’m a fan of corny puns and “Dad Jokes,” satire, general silliness and goofiness, and I’m not above slapstick humor.
But my favorite kind is absurdist humor. With all of it’s hyperbole, wordplay, unexpected shifts, and totally illogical narratives and situations, well-done absurdist humor gets me every time.
Maybe that’s why I like the Bible so much.
A snake convinces someone to eat a forbidden fruit and then the whole world starts to disintegrate?
A guy builds a huge boat and loads it up with every kind of animal to save them from a flood?
Another guy tries to run away from God’s command to go to Nineveh, boards a ship (as if he can sail away from God), gets thrown overboard, and gets swallowed by a huge fish who spews him out right in the very place he was trying to avoid? You gotta love that one.
And the story of Jesus’s birth?
Look at what God did with that one:
An angel appears to this young woman, Mary, and announces to her that she will bear a child that will inherit the throne of King David; he will be called the Son of God. This child will be the long-awaited Messiah.
Now, Mary was a person of faith, but she was skeptical and a bit afraid. I think any of us would be if an angel told us we were going to get pregnant in a pretty unconventional way bearing a pretty unconventional child.
But Mary said, “Alright. Here I am. Let’s go for it!”
Then she had to tell her fiancé, Joseph. The usual story would’ve gone something like Joseph breaking off the engagement and trying to save face. But just as he was packing up to catch the next donkey to Jerusalem, another angel comes along and tells him to stay put and marry Mary because — yes, she was pregnant with someone else’s child, but — the child was the Son of God born to save God’s beloved people. Joseph was on board, and the wedding went forward.
But there was no honeymoon for the newlyweds. With Mary near term, they had to travel to Bethlehem. The place was packed, and with nowhere to stay they bedded down in a barn.
So here’s the scene: Mary, pregnant out of wedlock. Joseph, a tradesperson. No private quarters with a proper bed, Mary goes into labor in a barn, presumably surrounded by sheep, maybe a couple of chickens and a few neigh-sayers. This is how the Prince of Peace was born? The Son of God, the Savior of the World was born to an essentially homeless couple from the Jewish peasant class? This? This is Christ the King? That’s absurd!
But it gets more absurd. I’m sure Mary wanted a little rest, but there were people intent on visiting the baby, as there always are. These angels again — they go out in the fields and tell some shepherds — stinky, grubby, certainly-not-royal shepherds — to go visit this infant Messiah. How absurd that God would choose shepherds to be the first to know of Christ’s birth!
Then there was a group of royal court scholars from distant lands who followed a star from their home all the way to Bethlehem. They brought him what every newborn needs: precious metals and embalming resins.
All of these visitors — the shepherds, the animals, the angels, the wise astrologists — came to see this precious, vulnerable, Jewish peasant infant lying in a feeding trough. But this particular precious, vulnerable, Jewish peasant infant lying in a feeding trough was not your ordinary precious, vulnerable, Jewish peasant infant lying in a feeding trough: this was God Made Flesh, Emmanuel. This child was the Messiah.
How divinely absurd.
Of course, the people of Israel had another kind of Messiah in mind: a mighty warrior, a military leader that would defeat the oppressive Roman Empire and banish them from the Promise Land. But God twisted that around as well.
Instead of commanding armies, Jesus led a band of bumbling Disciples.
Instead of lodging in a fortress, he had no home.
Instead of waging war, he demanded peace.
Instead of exacting revenge, he offered forgiveness.
Instead of toppling the empire, the empire hung him on a cross.
Once again: how divinely absurd.
All of this divine absurdity comes with a $10 theological term that will make you the hit of all your family Christmas gatherings. Again and again, God shows God’s power through what we call “eschatological reversal” — totally upending all expected outcomes and eschewing logic for the sake of enacting God’s justice and righteousness on earth: the underdog is the victor, the outcast is the model of faith, the most unlikely character is the Messiah. But that’s just like God to make it that way. If anyone had been paying attention, they would’ve seen it coming.
All of scripture is loaded with examples of God’s love, grace, justice, peace, and hope just radiating from unexpected people and places. For me, the nativity story is the pinnacle of this whole narrative of God using unlikely people as vessels for God’s incredible liberating power. Hear this Good News: God is still doing that today. God makes the ordinary extraordinary; God makes the lowly holy. God has done it again and again. So what makes you think God isn’t doing the same through you?
You might think that you being a vessel for God is simply absurd. I’d say you’re absolutely correct: It is absurd. It is divinely absurd. And isn’t it just like God — the God who chose to become flesh in the person of a Jewish peasant born in a feeding trough — to be divinely absurd?