Many years ago, an acquaintance told me that the hardest thing to do, the first time you remodel a house, is to pick up a hammer and start tearing out your first wall. This is hard, he said, because once you start ripping out the wall, you know that you’ve just committed yourself to a major undertaking and a lot of work. The house will never be the same again.
Much the same can be said of the birth of Christ. Christmas marks the beginning of God’s remodeling of creation, and more specifically, of us, created in God’s image but now sin-sick and in desperate need of fundamental and widespread remodeling. God enters the world in the form of a baby much like the hammer rips into sheetrock.
We can get very sentimental about Christmas and the birth of the baby Jesus. There’s something comforting about shepherds with their cuddly sheep, and something exotic about eastern strangers following a star and bearing expensive presents. Luke’s angels thrill us like a heavenly fireworks display erupting in the dark Bethlehem sky. We dutifully and even reverently welcome God’s son Christmas Eve with lit candles and singing “Silent Night”—all is calm, all is bright.
But yet, as beautiful and comforting as all this is, it is like a hammer going through sheetrock. God has committed Himself to a major undertaking, a major reworking of a creation fallen on hard times. God’s people had become distracted from God’s heart by habit, custom, and tradition. Humanity at large had wondered off, seeking God but finding idols instead. Empires established order and even peace, but it was peace and order nourished by the blood of those who got in the way. God began making changes, and for the new to come, the old has to be dismantled and taken away. If the night was indeed silent in that Bethlehem stable, it was a silence in which the foundations of creation were shaken, where God takes up residence in his creation through a baby lying in a Judean manger. The hammer rips into sheetrock, and Caesar and Herod give way to a new King, and religiosity gives way to an immediate and intimate relationship between Creator and creature.
One who understood much of this was Simeon. Simeon, unlike Mary and Joseph, and unlike the shepherds and magi, is a bit-player in Luke’s story. We don’t find him in our crèches or on our Christmas cards. But, it is Simeon who gets it; he understands the hammer ripping into sheetrock aspect of Christ’s birth. He knows the baby Mary and Joseph bring to the Jerusalem Temple is God’s salvation, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” and “glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32). But even more, he sees that this baby will grow up and change everything:
“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)
Mary too understands the hammer ripping into sheetrock, and so does John the Baptist. In Mary, God begins reconstructing creation and human hearts, scattering “the proud in the thoughts of their hearts,” bringing down “the powerful from their thrones “and “lifting up the lowly”. No longer will the rich matter simply because they’re rich: “He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 2:51-53). John, Christ’s advance man, warns us, “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:9).
God comes to us in Christ to reconcile the world, Paul tells us, so that “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:19, 17). God sent His Son not that we might be nice people, but new people. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who blesses peacemakers, tells us that he comes “to bring fire to the earth,” and asks, rhetorically, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace on the earth? No. I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:49, 51). Jesus comes, and His remodeling work begins, as remodeling work always does, with demolition—the demolition of bad habits, unhealthy relationships, and spiritual indifference. Our share of this demolition work is what the Bible calls “repentance.” It is getting rid of our old, worn out and even rotten priorities and desires so that the remodeling—the building of new priorities, new relationships and new desires—can begin. Since we are the handiwork of Jesus, the carpenter, it is he who breaks up the old, freeing us from it, for the sake of making us a “new creation.”
It is the birth of this Carpenter we celebrate this month. Open your heart to him, and let him sink his hammer into the sheetrock of your tangled desires and misplaced priorities, and let him rebuild your heart. Let him make you what God intended you to be.
Originally published in the newsletter of
Poquonock Community Church