You are all theologians.
You all are theologians. Every week we gather to interpret scripture. Interpretation requires making choices, figuring out who God is through reading the Bible in different ways. Including reading different interpretations like we are doing with the gospels during Advent. Wrestling with scripture helps us know who God is. That’s what it means to do theology. Figuring out who God is through scripture, through having a spiritual practice in prayer and reading, through having conversations about God and faith as a church community. All of you are engaging in some of these activities. That’s why you are theologians. So congratulations on doing something you didn’t even know you are doing.
Emmanuel “God is with us”
And the particular kind of theology we are doing today is called Christology. Christology is a fancy word to drop at cocktail parties. It means the study of Christ from “Christ” which is as it sounds plus “-ology,” the study of. That makes us all Christologists. We don’t have to be professional Christologists or Biblical scholars to have a Christology. In fact we all have one whether or not we know it. A Christology is simply a way we explain who the Second person of the Trinity is, made incarnate in Jesus. How we talk about Jesus reveals our Christology.
Today’s gospel reading from Matthew is all about Christology because in it we learn how Jesus comes to be. In fact we hear Jesus is given the name Emmanuel which literally means “God is with us.” God exists with us here on Earth in Jesus. And we hear how God sends Jesus to Earth as a baby in order to redeem or save us.
In the Gospel of Matthew the redemption story begins with the birth of Jesus. In the Gospel of John this begins already with God’s act of creation thinking about the famous verse, “In the beginning was the Word.” The Word refers to the second person of the Trinity, who becomes incarnate in Jesus. The first person of the Trinity is the Father or Creator, second the Son which includes Jesus, and the third person is the Holy Spirit.
So we are right to connect of Jesus’ birth saving creation and saving God’s people. It seems absurd that a baby could accomplish this, but that’s what makes the gospel so marvellous. It’s absurdity is the point that through God all things are possible. It’s a turning on its head the way the world works through power and might.
We do well to draw hope from the birth narrative in a time when it feels like the cataclysm forces of empire and industry are hell bent on destroying creation. And yet the Gospel of Matthew reminds us that God is doing a new thing through Jesus. A new thing with emphasis on today. That Jesus is named Emmanuel, Hebrew for “God is with us.” God is with us, continuing God’s promise of redemption of God’s people that began with the people of Israel and their journey home. A journey that went through the wilderness. A journey that continued when they were displaced from their home, occupied by foreign powers, and eventually were invited back home. As Christians the journey of redemption in Jesus does not supersede the redemption found in Hebrew scripture. For us it is related but a parallel act of divine redemption. God offers salvation in different ways. For us that salvation comes in its fullness through Jesus.
The good news is that through the birth of Jesus, God is continuing to overturn the influence of powers and principalities that are crushing creation, God’s creatures, and all of us. This where all of us becoming good theologians is critical. Because we know that a lot of Christians have been swayed by a theology that doesn’t bring life. There are theologies out there centred in accepting Jesus as your personal saviour and then going about your everyday life in service to powers and principalities. Not caring about the care of creation, not caring about the care of the lands and waters entrusted to Indigenous peoples, not caring about neighbours near and far. Theologies that deny holiness to trans and queer children of God.
I remember a colleague once saying that progressive Christians need to take up more theological space in the public square. Too often we say out of humility, “we’re not experts, we don’t have polished theologies. We’re still beginners as theologians.” And humility can be a great thing. It’s good not to overstep or assume too much. But if we don’t theologize out loud as progressive Lutherans, then bad theologies are happy to take up that space. And so with boldness, starting today with this gospel reading from Matthew we can already say our theology out loud. Things we can share with others.
First, we can tell others that “God is with us.” Because this is literally the meaning of Jesus’ name Emmanuel. “God is with us” is a God who is not disembodied, floating up in the heavens. “God is with us” is a God who came down to Earth to be with us, to walk with us, to lead us, who calls us to follow him. “God with us” God cares about bodies because Jesus as “God with us” came to us in a body.
Second, we can tell others that God spoke to women and marginalized people first. Only after God shares the big news of Jesus’ birth with Elizabeth and Mary, does God share the news with Zechariah and Joseph. And the men don’t have much of a speaking role. Zechariah in the Gospel of Luke literally can’t speak until John the Baptist is born. An angel takes away his voice. How we interpret these stories matters when we think about the continued challenges women and queer people have serving as rostered ministers in churches. That is especially so in churches that refuse to ordain women and openly queer people, but also in the ELCIC where we still have inroads to make.
Third we can tell others about the holiness of darkness this Advent and Christmas seasons. God sees it fit for Jesus to be born at night. Darkness is Holy is also the name of the reflections we have been using during Thursdays in Advent from Sundays and Seasons. Darkness is holy is correcting the imbalance of Biblical interpretation that says light is holy and that darkness is not. We see this negative judgement of darkness reflected in countless hymns, prayers, and sermons in our tradition. Equating darkness with what is bad is also steeped in racism, reinforcing tropes that lighter and whiter is good, while Blackness and Brownness is less good. That may not have been the intention of these hymns, prayers, and sermons, but the racism neighbours experience is real. Thankfully today we’re seeing more books, hymns, prayers, and reflections celebrating the beauty of darkness, the beauty of darkness, how darkness is also from God.
Creator Sets Free
Let us turn to the translation of the gospel reading we read out for a little more theologians on Jesus’ name. In this translation Emmanuel, “God is with us” is translated as “Creator Sets Free” and “Creator is with us.” This creative reading opens up new ways for us to imagine the birth narrative. “Creator Sets Free” ties birth to the creative work of giving birth. In a similar way to how God gave birth to creation, so too Mary gives birth to Jesus, “Creator Sets Free.” We imagine ways in which the birth of a baby sets us free from the powers and principalities, the forces of the world, that hold us back.
It helps us frame the work of Indigenous land defenders in theological terms. People of the land working to set the land and water free. The work of reconciliation isn’t just a secular pursuit, but rather we are learning ways to articulate how it’s central to who we are as followers of Jesus. Because Jesus is “Creator Sets Free.” Jesus is born to be the ones reminding us to be stewards of God’s gifts of healing of bodies, of lands, of waters. Jesus grows into someone who doesn’t shy away from calling upon God to be present in times of great struggle.
And so we think about ways in which God is blessing bodies, blessing lands, blessing waters, and inviting us into this Holy Week. perhaps there are lands and waters in your neighbourhood you already care for. The places where you take a walk or see out your window. A favourite tree, a stream, a favourite beach in Greater Victoria. A place where you see the seals and otters playing. Maybe you’ve even caught a glimpse of an orca.
As we wrap up, I want you to remember that you are all theologians. You are all engaging in the act of speaking about who God is. Even if you don’t talk to others about God, you are talking to yourselves about God. Even if you don’t realize it.
So remember three things you can share with others and remind yourself. Remember that you are also a particular kind of theologian, a Christologist because you talk about Jesus and the second person of the Trinity. If someone asks about your theology of Jesus you can remember these three things.
First Jesus is Emmanuel, “God is with us” or “Creator is with us” because God was born as a baby.
Second God revealed Jesus’ birth to women first. You can use that line is a man is being rude or condescending.
Third we remember that darkness is holy. Just as God chose for Jesus to be born in the night and saw that it was good.
So the text time you find yourself talking yourself down, remember that you are a theologian. You have a powerful, life giving message to share with the world about Jesus whose love is for you and for all of us. Amen.