Saturday, 26 December 2009

The Idiot: a Christmas sermon

A sermon by Kim Fabricius

Once again (for the twenty-eighth time), I have read, studied and prayed the Christmas stories so that I could preach to you this morning. Here’s the deal for 2009.

Matthew’s Gospel. Written by a Jew, it focuses on Joseph, who must do a lot of sleeping because, like his coat-of-many-colours namesake, he does a lot of dreaming. Babylonian sages follow a star to Jerusalem, and then start asking questions about a neonatal king. Now when you consider (a) that the Jews didn’t like Babylonians, their one-time conquerors, and (b) that the Jews already had a king, who wouldn’t take kindly to a rival – well, nosing around for a successor to the throne was actually a pretty dumb thing for wise guys to do. And sure enough, the hateful Herod calls for his hit men and, all swords slashing, children die and mothers weep. A shambles.

Then there is Luke’s Gospel. Written by a Gentile, and narrated with a quite orchestral elegance, it focuses on Mary, who, like Joan Baez, is a feisty singer of protest songs. Emperor Augustus takes a census – to collect taxes, to invest in weapons, to oil his war machine – while august angels put on a lightshow and do an open-air gig for peace – for yokels. Then a pious old bloke named Simeon praises the Lord – but prophesies maternal grief; and an old Temple groupie named Anna cries, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at least!” Not much youth work going on in Jerusalem, is there?

Finally, John’s Gospel. At once very Jewish and very Greek, with one heck of an overture, announcing great themes – light and darkness, life and truth, grace and glory – and focussing on the Logos, “the Word”, with tightly controlled verses rising to a crescendo: “The Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). Scholars love it. But “us” didn’t get it: the world didn’t get it, the Jews didn’t get it, nobody got it, really, except for a handful of the born-again. A handful? That’s it?

So I’ve read, marked, and inwardly digested the old stories, and I’ve come to a conclusion. To be honest, it’s a conclusion I reached long ago, but I’ve been reluctant to share it with you, because it’s not the kind of thing that ministers usually tell their congregations. But, hey, it’s Christmas, so let’s throw caution to the cold winds. My conclusion is this: God is an idiot. An absolute idiot. I mean of all the idiotic things – Christmas. The only thing I’ll give God is consistency. Look at the record: the Lord’s got form – he’s spent the whole of history acting like an idiot. No one in his right mind would do the things that God has done to redeem the world. Yep, God is an idiot.

Here is some homework for you. Later today (if you’re still sober), take a look at the very beginning of Matthew’s gospel, King Jimmy’s “begats”, the family tree of Jesus. I suspect you’d expect to find a “now let us praise famous men” kind of litany. Not a bit of it. There are three sections. The first section is all about people obsessed with sex. The second section is all about people who are pathologically violent. In the third section things get better – or do they? It’s hard to tell, because most of the people listed cannot be found anywhere in the Old Testament, and, to be frank, it looks like Matthew is making it up as he goes along. So meet the ancestors: fornicators, killers, and impostors. Nice one, God.

Or just take a good look at the world (though for this exercise it would help to be drunk). God made it – “in the beginning”. A “good” start. Sure, because God is all-wise, all-powerful, and all-loving. But now what have we got? The German philosopher Hegel called it a “slaughter-bench”. Was he wrong? What a mess. Thanks a lot, God. Of course clever philosophers and theologians have come up with all kinds of ingenious explanations that pass the buck to the laws of nature, or to the devil, or to sinners like you and me (three cheers for free will!), which lets God, the inscrutable old So-and-So, off the hook. I don’t buy it. He’s the creator of the universe, for heaven’s sake, and we get cancer, concentration camps – and Simon Cowell? If I were God, I promise you, I’d have made a better job of it. Wouldn’t you? What would you call the head of a construction company called Cosmos PLC, whose card says “Welcome to My World” – this world? You’d call him an idiot, that’s what you’d call him. Imagine God as a Project Manager on The Apprentice: Sir Alan Sugar points his menacing digit: “You’re fired!”

Okay, granted, God comes to fix the broken world. But how does he do it? To answer that question I would have to go on to talk about Good Friday and the crucifixion, and people will say, hey, it’s Christmas, we’re celebrating a birth, not commemorating a death, give the kids a break, give the cross a rest. Sorry, but that’s just what we can’t do. As Martin Luther saw with crystal clarity, the crib and the cross are cut from the same wood. Hence all the foreboding in Luke’s Christmas stories. Hence the shadow that falls over Matthew’s Nativity events. And the “we have seen his glory” in the Prologue of the Fourth Gospel (John 1:14) – the “glory” of Jesus, for John, is, above all, the glory of – (oops) the cross! Good Friday for all three evangelists is written into Christmas Day. “Hark! The herald-angels sing” is the overture for the Passion. Mark is on the ball: in his gospel he omits the birth of Jesus altogether and pretty much cuts to the chase down the Via Dolorosa.

So here, in sum, is God’s plan for a broken world: God sends his Son, born of Mary, to fix it, and, missed by Herod, crucified by Pontius Pilate, we fix him. Love: can’t live without it, but can’t live with it either – and when we meet Love, we murder him. And to the naked eye, the world rolls on pretty much as the same old same old, as the venal reign, the greedy prosper, and the weak get shafted. And we think: Where was Plan B? No, this is not the way we would do things if we were God. God doesn’t do multi-tasking. God is a loser and failure. God is an idiot.

So how do I conclude? As ever, with the seraph, like this: “I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all people. This very day in David’s town your Saviour is born – Christ the Lord!” The movers and shakers – they’re over-rated. I’ll stick with the Idiot, love the Idiot, and trust the Idiot, thanking God for making me – us – idiots too. Jesus said, “Blessed are the idiots!” Well, no, he didn’t – but he might have, because it’s true. So rejoice!

That God was Man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
(John Betjeman)

15 Comments:

Anthony Douglas said...

Goodness - thanks Kim, lots of excellent ideas, distilled down into a compact sucker-punch. Are you sure you're an idiot? ;-)

Willie B. said...

offended at first. but then I thought about Paul's famous "foolish gospel" message to the Corinthians. perhaps it does translate better in our world today to speak of the "idiotic Gospel!!!"

Nice.

Pablo said...

This is outstanding. Many thanks for posting, sir; and many more to Ms. Fabricius for thinking it out & writing it down for us. A day late, sure, but feliz navidad anyway.

roger flyer said...

I like the Ms. Fabricius tag. Works for me.

J said...

Chr*st as Myshkin? Perhaps--Dostoyevsky superior to the PoMo JC. At least we should know what He was not---like some cute Lacanian or stalinist jester putting on clown shows for 'Merican college dupes....

davebuehler said...

Hmmmm....have you seen the film A SERIOUS MAN?

It's right up yer alley...way.

Dave Bühler | Buzzards Bay

J said...

Hmmm. Who you addressing, Fats? Certainly hope not me.

Fat said...

Not Guilty J.

kim fabricius said...

You know the story of the rabbis in Auschwitz who put God on trial for crimes against humanity, find him guilty - and then break for prayers ...

Anonymous said...

This is Jo.

It's not too late to apply for some long service leave Kim - maybe then your 2010 sermon will be different from this one?

kim fabricius said...

If you want "different", Jo, you might check out my Christmas Eve sermon for 2008 here at F&T: "It's a Boy!"

Anonymous said...

Re Christmas Eve sermon - very inspiring Kim - beautifully written. Thank you. From Jo.

roger flyer said...

Jo-
You are now anonymous

Anonymous said...

From Jo

anonymous - having no individual or unusual features? I guess I've been judged!

folliculitis treatment said...

Someone told me an anecdote the other day about Tillich: young women used to sit at the back of the room during his lectures, because it was "too hot" down in the front rows

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