Sermons 2002

Sermons 2003

From God’s Storehouse of Snow
Job 38: 16-27; Micah 5: 2-5a & John 1: 1-5, 10-17

Fourth Sunday of Advent/ 21st December 2003

© Reverend Kenneth E. Kovacs
Catonsville Presbyterian Church
Catonsville,  Maryland

Today we stand upon the threshold of a new dawn.  The darkness of Advent is slowly giving way to the Morning Star.  At the turning of the tide, the coming Light will swallow up Shadow and darkness will yield to the New Day.  Today we stand upon the threshold of a new dawn as we wait to celebrate again – or maybe truly for the first time – the birth of God in flesh and blood.

This is risky business we’re involved with, to be sure.  Barbara Brown Taylor’s imaginative sermon, which Vicki Haupt read for us so beautifully last week, captures that startling sense among the heavenly host, where the angels themselves stand in complete disbelief that the Living God would risk becoming mortal, would take on flesh, our flesh, become one of us.  You can almost hear them saying, Are you sure this is really a good idea, God?  Sure, you created them in your image, but they’ve done a good job of mucking it up, almost beyond recognition.  Do you know what these humans are really like?  Do you know what they’re capable of?  Have you seen what they do to their own kind?  You could get yourself killed.

Listen how Robert Frost (1874-1963) captured this sense of amazement in one of his poems.

But God’s descent
Into flesh was meant
As a demonstration
That the supreme merit
Lay in risking spirit
In substantiation.
Spirit enters flesh
And for all it’s worth
Charges into earth
In birth after birth
Ever fresh and fresh.
We may take the view
That its derring-do
Thought of in large
Is one mighty charge
On our human part
Of the soul’s ethereal
Into the material.[1]

Frost gets right at the heart of the birth of Christ.  He goes right to the heart of why the claims we make are so unbelievable, yet true.  The birth tells us something more about God.  The birth opens a new window and gives a more profound vista of God’s glorious grace.  Yes, the birth of Christ is part of the salvation plan for humanity, born to set all people free.  But I want us to turn things around and look less at whatever benefits we might receive from his coming and focus more upon how in this birth we receive an even more stunning revelation of the God who acts this way.  God’s ability to redeem humanity is not all that unbelievable.  If God is God, then of course God can redeem us.  What’s remarkable and significant is the way God goes about redeeming us.  It’s not that God did this, but how God did it that is truly profound.  It’s this realization that causes shepherds to quake, throws kings to their knees and forces angels to veil their faces from the glory revealed in this birth.  It’s this insight into the nature of God that matters.  As Frost suggests, the supreme merit of God acting in this way was the risk – risking spirit in substantiation, God’s Spirit entering in flesh, “for all it’s worth,” charges into earth. We learn that God is a risk taker.  God is not afraid to venture into something new.

Several weeks ago, I said that we go to the Bible not to find rules for living, so-called “biblical principles” that will make our lives better; we don’t go to the Bible to find the secret for obtaining wealth or for achieving stress-free living.  We go to the Bible for only one thing:  to discover who God is.  From the beginning to the end, the Bible gives witness to the nature and purpose of God.  It’s all about God and once we discern who this God is, then (and only then) we discover who we are.  From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is a varied witness of humanity increasing its consciousness of God as God opens up humanity’s consciousness.  Let me show you briefly.

From the beginning we discover that this God is a Creator who plays with the stuff of chaos, the primordial mess out of which God creates a cosmos into something “good.”  The chaos and the mess are not alien to God; instead God uses them and forms something new.  It’s the “stuff” out of which Yahweh creates the universe.  There is infinite variety out of which God gives birth to the universe.  God is like an artist who is not afraid of getting messed up with paint in the process of creating a masterpiece.  Have you ever seen an artist’s studio that was neat, clean and orderly?  In fact, chaos is a necessary component of any creative act.  Psychologists seeking to understand human creativity have discovered this.  Think of the scholar in her study surrounded by a chaos of books and articles of paper.  Maybe we Presbyterians need to learn that chaos is not the opposite of order (Then maybe we might have the courage to create something new.)  We cannot be creative without the untidiness, the chaos, and the playful mess out of which something extraordinary comes into being.  God is the Creator who is still creating, bringing about new things for us.   This is one insight into who God is.

Here’s another insight.  I love snow.  I love everything about snow (except driving in it in my little Honda).  I’m a Weather Channel addict, I confess, and it’s the only reason why I have cable.  I love the anticipation of the storm as it approaches; the love the electricity in the air, the sense of expectation.  And then to watch it fall, whether gently or furiously in a blizzard, watching the creation being graced by this gift that turns everything pure and clean – all of this never ceases to amaze me. There is an obscure verse in the Bible, in Job, that speaks of snow.  It’s one of the few places in scripture that refers to this sublime gift.  It is found in one of God’s speeches that come to Job from out of the whirlwind (another image of chaos).  In the midst of Job’s protestations, God interrogates Job, who do you think you are?    “Have you entered the springs of the seas?  Have the gates of death been revealed to you?  Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?”  Job’s answer (and ours) is, of course, no.  With a slight hint of rhetorical sarcasm, God asks, “Have you entered the storehouses of snow?”  Now of course, we know that snow is not “stored” in some metaphysical “storehouse” in the sky.  But think a minute with me about snow.  “Snow consists of delicate hexagonal flakes of ice, each with an intricate and novel geometrical design.”  So that a deluge of countless exquisite flakes, a blizzard becomes an accurate and revealing symbol for the infinite variety at God’s disposal to bring about something beautiful and new.  Indeed, we might call a snowstorm a Pandemonium Tremendum, a tremendous pandemonium that points to the way God acts and reflects God’s Being.[2]  For God is the master of the deep, light, and darkness, snow, hail, and lightning, constellations, clouds and mist. God is the power behind this variety and creatively uses the variety for God’s glory.  This is another insight into who God is.

The same creative God who was there in the beginning was infinitely creative when the Word took on flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth.  There is perhaps no more majestic proclamation of the Christian claim than these opening words from John’s gospel.  In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word was with God (John 1:1).  Actually, the beginning of John’s gospel intentionally links the work of God in Christ with the primal creative act of God “in the beginning.”  The Word taking on flesh and blood, becoming human in a messy, bloody way, entering into the mess of broken humanity, an expression of the creative brilliance of God, of the how, the way God chose and chooses to redeem us.  The God revealed in the birth of Jesus Christ is not afraid of getting messed up with humans. This God is always doing a new thing.  This is the God we discover in the Bible.

On this fourth Sunday in Advent we hear Micah’s prophecies regarding Bethlehem’s role in the history of salvation.  God is about to do something radically new and creative with Bethlehem and for Israel and for us.  Something never before seen is about to break forth into space-time.  With the birth of Jesus we are about to encounter the fullest and wildest revelation we’ve ever received of the Creator.  This is the God whose use of infinite variety and creativity are found in a snowstorm and in the face of a baby born to free us.  The Word has become flesh.

This Word is John’s term for the creative utterance of God that brought the universe into being.  The Word is the not only the divine name, but the divine language that continues to speak to humanity, that continues to speak and calls new worlds into being and renews the hearts of God’s people.  The divine language took on flesh and communicates with us in the flesh of Jesus that God wants to be close to us, that God cares about this world, that God seeks the welfare all people, and will do whatever it takes for us to realize this.  The Episcopal layperson, attorney, and writer, William Stringfellow (1928-1965) was a brilliant man (he attended the London School of Economics and graduated from Harvard Law School) who grasped the awesomeness of God’s actions in Christ.  He once wrote, “The joy of the Christian life is that nowhere is the Word of God absent.”  This statement is true because of Christmas. God is close.  In fact, Stringfellow claims, “The audacity of the Christian way is in acknowledging the Word of God in all things and in all men and in every place and at any time on behalf of the world – yes even a world which really does not acknowledge Him or worship Him in any thing, or in any man, or in any place.”[3]

This is what people need to hear, friends.  God is at work in our lives.  We know this.  But God is also at work in the lives of all people (whether they know it or not) and out there in the world (whether we see God or not).  The great psychiatrist, Carl Jung (1875-1961), had inscribed (in Latin) over his counseling room doors these words, “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.”  That is, called or not called, God is present.  This is our job – to shout it from the rooftops or whisper it gently.  The Word of God became flesh and Christ continues to enflesh our lives, “for all it’s worth/ ever fresh and ever fresh.”  This is who God is!

This is why shepherds quake with fear and angels veil their faces.  This is the glory that is set before us and why we must be wary of every attempt to domesticate and tame Christmas.  We come face-to-face with mystery.  Albert Einstein (1879-1955) once said, “He to whom the mysterious is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand in rapt awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”[4]

In awe and wonder we stand before such mystery.  But the mystery will not overcome us or strike us down.  With our eyes wide open, the Christian is open to the mysterious, spectacular, risky, and creative ways God communicates with us the depths of His love. Before such splendor and still quaking, the angels say to us – FEAR NOT!  “For Behold I tell you good news of great joy.”  Go to Bethlehem and see God in the flesh.  This is the God who loves you.

[1]Robert Frost, In The Clearing (New York:  Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962).  I am grateful to my good friend, the Reverend Chuck Coblentz, chaplain to the Pennington School, Pennington, New Jersey, for introducing me to this poem.

[2]See James E. Hucingson, Panedmonium Tremendum:  Chaos and Mystery in the Life of God (Cleveland, OH:  Pilgrim Press, 2001), pp. 119-120.

[3] William Stringfellow, A Private and Public Faith (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 1967), pp. 47-48.

[4] Cited in Paul Pearsall, The Beethoven Factor:  The New Positive Psychology of Hardiness, Happiness, Healing and Hope (Hampton Road Publisher, 2003).