Back in the early 70s when I was a teenager my friends and I loved to get dropped off at Tyson Corner mall. It was one of the fist mega-malls. You had to go there to do your Christmas shopping. I will admit to you tonight, that one of my favorite stores at the mall was the sort-of-naughty Spencer’s. Is Spencer’s even still in business?
Spencer’s sold racy things: T-shirts and edgy stuff marketed particularly for teenage boys like me. And In the back of the shop were the posters, where I first saw the iconic poster of Farrah Fawcett. I am just sayin.’
But it is not Farrah that I want to remember tonight, but rather another poster.
It was a poster of a cartoon-drawn mouse who was backed into a corner. A large hawk with talons bared was about to strike this mouse. But the mouse was not cowering. The mouse was standing on its hind legs as this oppressive bird drew near extending his right hand and making – with his finger – that world-wide recognized sign of defiance – which I will not do because we are in church on Christmas Eve.
That’s the poster that came back to me as I thought about my remarks this night. Because the Christmas story, as sweet and iconic as it is, is really one of defiance…defiance and hope.
For this Christmas Eve finds us facing much that is hard, fearful, even oppressive. Some of you may feel like that little mouse backed into a corner: I know I do sometimes.
There is violence locally and globally, another shooting and another terrorist attack. Poor people are oppressed by poverty and frankly, I think rich people are oppressed by their riches. Young people oppressed by their debts, and good people simply feeling overwhelmed. And I know of dear people who have just received hard news – and it is so easy to give in and give up and let the hawk come, to just be passive and let it play out.
But that little mouse stands defiant: “NO!” Where there is life and breath there is hope! I like that- it’s holy!
The story we read tonight about Jesus, and Joseph and Mary tells of the first Christmas Eve spent in a barn, or a cave, and there was no room in the Inn. That was a defiant act!
Rome ruled – and Rome, for all its wonders, was an oppressive regime, particularly in Palestine.
Emperor Augustus – who was later proclaimed divine, a god – ruled the world, and evil King Herod was on the throne.
And Mary and Joseph, surrounded by nothing by barn animals delivered what we proclaim to be Emmanuel – God with us, among us; already in the midst – NOT out there but right here.
And little did Rome know, little did old Augustus know, little did bad old Herod know, that that Jesus was the incarnation of a defiant and loving God.
The oppressive Hawk swooped in for the kill and little baby Jesus is defiant: NO YOU DON’T!
And history shows, doesn’t it? Because the Roman Empire is no more and here we sit celebrating Christmas. That little defiant baby Jesus: NO YOU DON’T! From that act of defiance came the power of hope – hope and love – that changed the world.
We need to grab on to that tonight!. Be a little more defiant, and a little more hopeful.
So I want you all to pay attention to the places in your life where you feel defiant AND hopeful; oppressed and ALSO pregnant with a new idea, or with new energy. Because that is where God is ALWAYS being born! Right at those crossroads.
The world needs you! God needs you!
The yearnings you have to express yourself, or to “do it some other way,” or to stand defiant before the oppressive powers and say: “NO YOU DON’T! I matter, we matter, life matters. I am NOT giving up! I will not be oppressed! “
Just a little defiant, just a little hopeful – it is a start.
Last Sunday, at the end of Amahl and the Night Visitors, I was moved to pray for our Muslim sisters and brothers because there is such anger and fear in the world. I wondered, as I prayed, if some were going to be angered by my mini-defiant act.
But then I was shaking hands at the end of the service, and three people, who I did not know, were in the line, and as they passed they said, “Thank you for your prayer, we are Muslims. This is the first time we’ve been in a church and we didn’t know we’d get this welcome.”
Who knew?Let’s be a little more defiant, and a little bit more hopeful.
One simple defiant and hopeful act is to “welcome everybody!” Because you just don’t know.
Just a few weeks ago I was walking in Forest Hill Park. The city had just laid new gravel down on the path – it looks beautiful. The workers spent a lot of time doing it right – they tore up all the old stuff, and like Isaiah the prophet declared: they made the rough places plain and filled up the valleys and smoothed things over. It looked impregnable.
And yet, within three weeks of laying down all this new gravel and rolling it with those huge, heavy rollers, already little green buds were pushing through. How did they do that? I do not know – it is a miracle to me how they pushed through all the layers, all the weight, I dare say oppressive weight, in early December no less.
Defiant little shoots… hopeful little signs.
Life has a way, you see, and birth has a way, and GOD has a way – and tonight I say, Jesus has a way! Jesus IS the way, the truth and the light.
So whatever trumped up madness you face, oppression you face, terror you face, fear you face; whatever corner you are backed into, stand defiant: “NO YOU DON’T! I am not finished yet; heck, I haven’t even begun!”
Stay hopeful! Because if a baby can be born, and green shoots can push through tarmac, and a mouse can flip off a hawk – and I can still remember Farrah Fawcett – then there is hope to be had and life to be lived and joy to be shared and presents to be opened and good food to be passed and people to love.
Jesus. The divine act of defiance and hope.
So be it! Merry Christmas!