On Christmas Eve in 2007, I preached a sermon titled: “Ricky Bobby and Grownup Jesus.” I give thanks that some of you, even now, still remember and refer to that sermon. That Christmas sermon cast an image of Ricky Bobby from the movie Talladega Nights. In the sermon, I recalled a scene from the film where Ricky Bobby begins a dinner table prayer by invoking “Dear Lord Baby Jesus.” Ricky then insists that he likes the Christmas Jesus best, as opposed to grownup Jesus.
I suppose that the sermon from Christmas 2007 became memorable, not just for its humor, but because you know how close it comes to a theological point that is near and dear to me. The challenge to worship the grownup Jesus at Christmas, rather than just the baby Jesus, rings very true to my own theology of what is so important about Christmas. In my own spiritual life, I have received power from celebrating Christmas as the Feast of the Grownup Jesus, the Feast of the Incarnation.
In the Episcopal/Anglican tradition, Christmas is the Feast of the Incarnation. One of the most beautiful Christmas services is Lessons & Carols sung at King’s College in Cambridge, England (tune into NPR on the radio or on-line on Christmas Eve morning for a real treat). At the conclusion of that worship service, the sonorous and soaring blessing begins:
May Christ, who by his Incarnation gathered into one things earthly and heavenly…
It is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ that has made a huge difference in my life. It is baby Jesus and teenaged Jesus and baptized Jesus and crucified and resurrected Jesus who gathers into one things earthly and heavenly. It is Jesus, all grown up and mature, who calls me to an abundant and mature life, as Jesus challenges me to love my neighbor, to give a cup of cold water to the least of these, to sell everything and follow him, to take up my cross.
I want you to know that the most powerful moment for me every Christmas Eve is when I kneel in front of the altar, in our darkened church, to sing Silent Night. My gaze goes up to the altar, overflowing with poinsettias that are only lit by flickering candles. Then my eyes do not go to a manger, but my gaze goes up to a majestic wooden cross, the cross where grownup Jesus died for me out of love.
The manger is not the enduring symbol of the Christian life. The enduring symbol of Christianity is the cross. The cross is the ultimate moment of Incarnation, when Christ gathers into one things earthly and heavenly.
This Christmas, I invite you to move beyond the manger, beyond the baby Jesus. Turn your eyes upon grownup Jesus. He is asking you to follow him, asking you to die with him, asking you to rise to new life with him.
This Christmas, worship Jesus, the Incarnation of God, the ultimate grownup.