Dance with Me
The Nativity of the Lord; December 24, 2016
John 1:1-5, 10-14
We went to see the Omaha Community Playhouse's production of A Christmas Carol again this year. Since we are subscribers, we receive tickets to that show every year and again this year I said to myself, "I know the story and I've seen this production; we should really give the tickets to someone else." But again we went, and again I loved it. One of the features I love about the Omaha production is the music; they skillfully incorporate a wide variety of traditional Christmas songs into the show. One of those is, "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day."
The cast sings it during the party at nephew Fred's house, when all the party-goers take partners and dance. I wish more Christmas parties included dancing, but that is another sermon. Perhaps you do not know the old song – it was published in 1833 but may be much older than that – but I have had opportunity to sing it. Here's what is wonderful about it: it tells the story of Jesus from his own point of view, and it tells the story as an invitation to dance.
I want, says the song, for my true love to see the play I am giving her. In my play, I shall be born to a virgin, laid in a manger, baptized, betrayed, crucified, and raised from the dead. I want my true love to see this play and dance with me. It sort of makes me think of the elaborate ways some young men have to ask their young ladies to go to prom with them: they stage something grand, all to ask her to a dance. In this old song, Jesus goes through a long and elaborate play, all to ask his lady love to dance with him. Any of you who know the New Testament know that the "lady love" is us: humanity.
What does Christmas look like from God's point of view? When we read the traditional story from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, we see Joseph and Mary and Herod and shepherds and magi. And more recent traditions add a drummer boy and the littlest angel. We can tell the story from the point of view of any of them, but who ever tells the story from God's point of view? The poets do, and they tell it as the "Dancing Day" song tells it: as a love story. God sends prophets to raise our expectations, sends angels to announce the event, and sends shepherds and magi to witness the event because God is courting us, asking us to prom, extending a hand and saying to us, "Dance with me."
The choir's song right after the sermon ("See Amid the Winter's Snow," words by Edward Caswall, tune by John Goss, arranged by Dan Forrest) also sings about the event from God's point of view, after a fashion. But that poet looked at how much the Son of God gave up in order to be born in Bethlehem and snooze in a feed-trough:
Lo, within a manger lies He who built the lofty skies,
He, who throned in light sublime sits amid the cherubim.
Sacred infant, all divine, what a tender love was Thine,
Thus to come from endless bliss down to such a world as this.
It points out to you and me that for God to do such a thing, for the Son of God to come to this world, this messy, messed-up world, takes astonishing love. Look how much he gave up! Look at what this world is like! How Christ must love us!
Well, yes, and it is true that we hardly deserve such love. The Lord God Almighty has been asking the human race to dance for a very, very long time. And we keep saying, "No." We would rather dance with other gods: after all, Baal is a lot sexier. Or we would rather dance with things: with money or power, or whatever is waiting for us under the Christmas tree tomorrow. Or we would rather dance alone.
Yet God keeps asking, despite our repeated refusal to dance, despite the mess we make of our lives and of the world, God keeps asking us to dance. Here's what it makes me think. You know how sometimes you may feel real bad about yourself, but someone says something to you that shows how highly that person thinks of you? This is the person who says you look beautiful, when you think you don't. Or who admires your strength or intelligence, when you don't feel so good about yourself. Very often that is the woman or man you are married to, or your closest friend: the people who know you best, flaws and all, and yet think so highly of you and make you feel better about yourself than you think you deserve. That is who God is for us at Christmas.
Christmas is a very big story and the preacher can never run out of things to say about it. This year, I believe, the Christmas message that you and I need to hear is that God has a better opinion of us than we have of ourselves. Whether we deserve it or not, God loves us. God has staged an elaborate drama – with prophets and angels and shepherds and magi and a young couple laying their baby in a feed-trough, and with disciples and Pharisees and priests and teaching and healing and a crucifixion and, best of all, resurrection – God has put all this together to say to the human race, and tonight to you and me: Please dance with me.
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day:
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance:
Sing O my love, O my love, my love, my love;
This have I done for my true love.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Benson Presbyterian Church