Born this Night
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church Bishop Peter F. Hansen Sermon for Christmas Eve December 24, 2020 “Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit.”
SOME CHILDREN see Him lily white, the baby Jesus born this night. Some children see Him lily white, with tresses soft and fair. Some children see Him bronzed and brown, The Lord of heav'n to earth come down. Some children see Him bronzed and brown, with dark and heavy hair. Some children see Him almond-eyed, this Savior whom we kneel beside. some children see Him almond-eyed, with skin of yellow hue. Some children see Him dark as they, sweet Mary's Son to whom we pray. Some children see him dark as they, and, ah! they love Him, too! The children in each different place will see the baby Jesus' face like theirs, but bright with heavenly grace, and filled with holy light. O lay aside each earthly thing and with thy heart as offering, come worship now the infant King. 'Tis love that's born tonight! “Some Children See Him” Wihla Hutson & Alfred S. Burt 1951.
Wihla Hutson and Alfred Burt wrote this modern carol of Christmas. Few modern carols exist, but this one’s notable for its message—and not a new message, not really. Though time and history and human strife have obscured the fact, a fact obvious to the first generations who worshiped the One born in that stable: the fact was that He came for all people, every race, an entire planet, excluding no one.
Another children’s song says it as well: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white: they are Precious in His Sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Children, after all, do get it, while we grown-ups can sometimes struggle with obvious truth. God is for all people. He favors us all. His love is over all. Not one tribe, not one ethnicity, not one region is missed—truly, at long last, God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled: “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Gen 22:18 All nations means everyone.
Every other religious pursuit is primarily built for one race, one tribe, one nation exclusively. Islam is for Arabs—so much that non-Arabs call themselves “Arabs”. Judaism, though meant for all nations, never got past its own ethnic family. Hinduism is for Hindis, Buddhism for East Asians, Zoroaster for Persians. Egypt, Greece, Rome and the thundering hoards of my own Vikings, all had their religious stories to tell, of the gods of their people. Only once has One come to say this: “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations.” Matthew 24:14 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations.” Matthew 28:19
Jewish prophets anticipated this: “Declare his glory among the heathen; his marvelous works among all nations.” 1 Chron. 16:24 “That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations.” Ps. 67:1-7 “The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba … shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.” Ps. 72:10-11 “All nations shall call him blessed.” Psalm 72:17 “All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name.” Psalm 86:9 “And the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory.” Haggai 2:7 Nations is our word for the Hebrew goyem, others, foreigners. They shall all come.
In Christ this is fulfilled: this universality, seeking of all kindreds, every family—He is the authenticating mark of the One true Faith, for indeed the true God made all, and loves all, and seeks to save all. The gift of this baby, born this night, is a gift for every tongue, every nation, every child.
The Ivory Coast village of Katiola creates colorful nativity sets of clay where Joseph, Mary, and the Christchild are African, dark-skinned, and beautiful. Crèches from Poland and Bavaria, like our favorite Medieval art, feature a European Holy Family. Mexican Navidads display an Hispanic Jesus. Korean statues have Asian eyes; and crèches from north of the Arctic Circle show a baby Eskimo. We have a little ceramic scene from Arizona, in a Navajo pueblo with a small turquoise cross above a little family of Navajos: Jesus is a papoose.
We may object to recreating the Holy Family as anything but an Israeli family. Isaiah said He will be called Immanuel, God with us. 7:14 Truly He came as one of us. If a Chinese Christian wants to see Him Chinese, held by a delicate little Chinese Mary: this is the point of Christmas, in fact, of all Christianity. God has come to be one of us, to identify so much with us that He takes our likeness to Himself. We should never see Jesus as anything but what we are—and as God’s Son.
My wife Giti once meditated of how beautiful the Baby Jesus must have been. She prayed to see Him. She wasn’t taken to Bethlehem, but to Tehran in the 1950s. She saw, not a Jewish baby boy, but a beautiful and precious Iranian newborn girl, with olive skin and blue-black curls, dark bright eyes and long limbs. She saw herself. And she was beautiful. And that was His answer.
We shouldn’t look far off or to another land to find the image of our Lord, for He came to us, came for us, came as one of us. And He is beautiful—not only a foreign beauty, but what you or I would regard our kin.
All our lives we are told things about ourselves and may come to see ourselves as ugly, undesirable, unworthy, unacceptable. God corrects this misimpression with the birth of His Son. You are not ugly. You are beautiful. You are not rejected. He receives you. He loves you so much that He comes looking just like you.
Imagine discovering an ancient trunk, filled with lifelike portraits of saints and famous people. You pour through the images, seeking that Face above all faces, the Face of Jesus Christ. You’ll know Him when you see Him, you believe with all your heart. Then a precious frame is uncovered, and you hold it up to see, not the long hair, beard, long nose and penetrating eyes: our image of Jesus Christ, but a mirror—the image is yourself. With a voice: “I came for you.”
St. Athanasius, the wonderful 4th century saint who saved Christianity from heresy, once said: “God became man, so that man might become God.” No heresy here, please note: we don’t say that we ourselves will ever be God. We are creatures, His handiwork, and we aren’t from eternity without beginning. Yet what did the Son of God become but a man, and in Him man has become God. Furthermore, we are His Body as the Church, His Spirit within us, receiving His Body and Blood in communion, married to Him as His eternal Bride. An intimate love affair has begun between God and His people. The sign of this love is lying up there in a manger. As John saw, “A great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.” Rev. 7:9
Some voices clamor today with a sad, remotely recognized discord, seeking to frame the issue of race, inequality, past injuries, current suspicions, all the stuff we came through in the 50s, 60s and 70s, that got better and more normalized in the 2000s, so that we are no longer afraid, no longer alienated, no longer stigmatized. Why would we go back to that? We don’t pretend that offences didn’t take place. But forgiving, offering ourselves, loving one another, learning new things, celebrating our differences and adding them to enrich our lives is the spirit of Christianity, the Great Commission, the very meaning of the Apostles. Sent out ones. Bridgebuilders. Ambassadors to every foreign land. Paul came as the Jew among Jews, yet served with his life the other, the alien to his background, as the Apostle to the Gentiles. For this Christ came, the reunion of God and humankind, and with it, the reunion of humans. Christmas doesn’t belong to one race, unless we mean the human race.
Born this night is a hope for love to truly conquer all. Hate, fear, accusations, and name-calling have never solved our problem. This one small child has solved them all, if we come to Him and worship Him. He is God with us. He is one of us. He is beckoning us to join Him in a truly new world order.
Some children see Him lily white. Alfred Burt, jazz composer and the son of a minister, at age 30, wrote this poem, in the same year my wife was born in Iran. He would die of cancer three years later, but his offering stands. Jesus Christ is born for all of us tonight: whether black, brown, yellow, red or white. If we envision Him more like ourselves than as the historic Jesus, it’s His Story that matters. “I came for you. I am one of you. You have been redeemed by one who came as one of your own race, the human race, to save you along with all nations, that the world may see its Savior as ‘God with us.’” Shepherds saw and heard angels, the Persian magi saw a star, the Ethiopian read a prophecy about a dying savior, people of many lands heard the Gospel proclaimed to them in their own languages. God is with us. Emmanuel.
The children in each different place will see the baby Jesus' face like theirs, but bright with heavenly grace, and filled with holy light.
O lay aside each earthly thing and with thy heart as offering, come worship now the infant King. 'Tis love that's born tonight!