Being an Out Christian

by Lowell Chilton in , ,

This is a slightly modified version of the Christmas morning homily I preached at the Episcopal Church of the Messiah in Murphy, North Carolina.

Merry Christmas!

For y’all who don’t know, I live in Seattle but grew up all over the South. I’m back in the South for Christmas and I’m really happy to be back. I love being back in the South for many reasons. There’s my family and friends. There’s the food – This is my third day back and I’ve already had grits twice. And don’t get me started on Seattle’s idea of bar-be-cue.

There’s the lack of rain. Seriously.

One of the things I like most is that it is possible to be out as a Christian without eliciting reactions of “Really?” It is nice to be able to be wished a Merry Christmas by a stranger in the mall. It is nice to hear religious Christmas music in a coffee house. It is nice to not worry that pulling my Bible out in public will spark an hour long debate.

But is it really that nice? Are these things that give me warm fuzzies really what it means to be out as a Christian? When people are sleeping in doorways, does it matter that I can say Merry Christmas without feeling weird about it? When people work more than a full time job and still have to go to the food bank to feed their family, is the message of that music that I love getting heard? When the Bible that I love is contorted and twisted so that many people are deeply injured, subjugated, and otherwise denied participation in the fullness of Creation, is it really that great that I can pull out my Bible in public to study?

The prologue to the Gospel of John is full of beautiful language and profound theology about Christ. In the midst of the connections to Greek and Jewish philosophy, the profound language about the Word and the relationship of Christ to God and to Man, it is really easy to miss the arrival of the first Out Christian.

“A man named John was sent from God. He came as a witness concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light.”

It is our responsibility as Out Christians to testify following the example of John the Baptist and to bear witness about the light into the world. This responsibility is daunting in several ways. How are we to know the path of the light, for even the evangelist says that the World did not recognize the light? And if we are able to see a path of the light, how are we going to have the courage to testify for the Light? How do we become truly Out Christians?

Good News! Today we celebrate the moment when God became flesh and dwelt among us. The miracle of Christmas is the promise of God to the World that accompanies the responsibility of being Out Christians. In the blessed birth of Jesus of Nazareth, we are able to see the world with new eyes and see the path of justice.

We must be careful however, not to skip straight from the birth to the cross. We must be careful not to ignore the life of Jesus that leads to the cross. We often focus on the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, on the sacrifice that conquers death, and lose sight of the life that leads to the sacrifice. The dwelling of the Word among us as flesh was not a three decade placeholder twiddling thumbs waiting for the cross. No, the Word lived a life full of relationships, teaching, healing, advocating, agitating, praying, and loving that culminates Christ’s death and resurrection. The Word made flesh is the Light to all people.

The Light Shines in the Darkness and the darkness SHALL not overcome it.

As Out Christians, we are called to reflect this Light into World. And it is the full life of Christ to which we are called to bear witness. This is not a passive witness. This is a witness of action. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, we are to “seek Justice, help the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17).

We are called to agitate for justice in our society and in our world. Wherever we see injustice and iniquity, we are called to speak and act. This is not and will not be easy or simple. There will be hour long debates in the pub and funny looks in the street. There will be long days of letter writing and protesting to civil authorities. There will be late nights and early mornings at homeless shelters and feeding programs. There will be detractors, both inside and outside the church.

Thankfully, we are not alone. The Word that became flesh was not only in the world for those 30 years some 2000 years ago.

No, the Word that became flesh was there at the beginning.

The Word that became flesh participated in creation.

The Word that became flesh spoke through the prophets and the ancient traditions.

The Word became flesh through the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit and walked the Earth showing us the way.

The Word that became flesh lives among us still, giving us the courage and path to be Out Christians.

Today, as we celebrate the incarnation of the Word, remember that Christmas is not only for today, but for every day. The Word came into the world so that we might see the Light. The Light is not limited to Advent and Christmas. Let the blessing of “Merry Christmas” become both a reminder and a battle cry. Let it be a reminder of what is means to be an Out Christian in the world. Let it ring out throughout the year as a battle cry as we participate with God in the quest for justice in the world.

The Light Shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.