A Christmas Tsunami (Revised,
Christmas 2 John 1:1-18
(This sermon is an
adaptation of the sermon, A
Christmas Tsunami,, by Nathan Nettleton, Laughing Bird
Liturgical Resources, South Yarra Community Baptist Church,
Melbourne, Australia. The quotation marks are sentences from
sermon is rooted in a sermon entitled, A CHRISTMAS TSUNAMI, by
Nathan Nettleton, a Baptist pastor from Melbourne, Australia. I was
so touched by Pastor Nettleson’s
sermon that I forwarded it onto seven thousand other Lutheran
pastors here in the United States. Like most preachers always do, I
adapted and revised this sermon for my own use.
sermon grows out of John 1:14, “The Word became flesh, a human
being, and lived among us.”
this past Christmas Eve, we gathered here in this sanctuary to sing
told stories about a baby.
A baby who would save the world.
A baby whose birth was greeted by the angels.
A baby whose birth meant tidings of great joy for all people
spoke of God-made-flesh,
Cute, chubby, baby-flesh.”
Pink flesh. Warm flesh. Cuddly flesh.
The smells and feels of a new born baby flesh.
God became flesh in the baby Jesus.
sang familiar songs.
We enjoyed familiar company.
We smiled as we sang about the baby.
God was in heaven and all was well with the world.
OR, so it seemed.”
all was not well with the world.
A pressure was building up deep beneath the surface.
Two unyielding forces were pushing against each other.
And we sang on.
And others partied on.
And still others holidayed on.
We wrapped the final Christmas presents as the kids fell asleep.
But underneath the Earth, the pressure grew and grew.”
is calm, all is bright,” we sang.
“Sleep in heavenly peace,” we sang.
“Now you hear of endless bliss,” we sang.”
We sang of endless bliss??? That Christ was born for this???
Were we so naive?
Are we always so naïve?
pressures underneath the Earth grew and grew and grew,
nothing of the “endless bliss” of our songs.
gave way that Christmas Eve or the next evening.
But the pressure went right on building.
And the next morning all hell broke loose.
It was a simple thing…really.
Those two great forces pushing against one another.
One slipped a bit.
The earth shuddered.
The pressure was released.
All quite simple.
The movement caused a wave.
as the churches went on singing that Sunday morning,
Singing songs about the lovely baby again.
That wave was tearing babies out of peoples’ arms.
Sucking beds out through hotel windows with people still in them,
Turning idyllic beachside villages into churning soups
Of angry water and broken glass and car parts and blood
And corrugated iron and dying children
And splintered wood.”
was all over in minutes.
The water ran back into the sea,
Taking with it whatever it wished,
Whatever it hadn’t impaled or trapped or buried or drowned.”
all seen pictures of what the tsunami left behind.
Haunting horrible pictures.
Mud and ruins and corpses.
Old, young, men and women.
The life sucked out of them.
Dead children strewn everywhere.
Hundreds and hundreds of dead babies.”
Thousands upon thousands of dead babies.
130,000? 140,000? 150,000 dead and decaying and smelling flesh.
flesh. Drowning flesh. Dead flesh.
Flesh buried in mass graves in muddy pits. Flesh burned in
flaming pyres on rubbled beaches.
the Mind of God became human flesh and lived among us. Hmmm.
“What child is this who laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping?
What child is this who laid to rest
In the mud and devastation on the beaches (of Indonesia, Thailand
child is this?”
Who knows what child is this?
Battered lifeless unnamed corpses.
Every now and then, there is a scream
And one of the living gives a name to one of the dead
Thousands more lay waste in the sun.
Some perhaps with no one left alive who knew their name.”
can we say?
Who wants to sing of cute babies now?
Who wants to stand up and talk of the Word made flesh?
There is flesh strung all over the streets (and beaches of
Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka).
Broken lifeless flesh.
Human flesh beginning to bloat and smell in the sun.”
Word, the Mind of God became flesh, human flesh, baby flesh. What
does that mean? What does that mean to the people living in the
beach towns of Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka? In the towns of
those twelve nations hit by this tsunami?
do those Christmas songs (about endless bliss) mean now?
Now you hear of endless
bliss, Jesus Christ was born for...this?
“For this? For endless bliss?
the angels tidings of great joy mean anything in the face of this?
Can we stand in the mud and debris
And speak of the One who is called Emmanuel,
God with us?”
would it sound obscene?
that is the challenge, isn’t it? To preach the gospel at this time
of enormous disaster.
if the Christmas gospel has nothing meaningful to say to the people
of the beaches of Indonesia,
Thailand and Sri Lanka,
Then it doesn’t have anything meaningful to say at all.”
said that any theology that can’t be preached
In the presence of parents grieving over their slaughtered children,
Isn’t worth preaching anywhere else either.”
in the midst of carnage and shock and horror,
What can we say?
There are no words.”
At times, there are no words to
We can only be present in love, in silence, with no trite answers.
a pastor said,
“I don’t want to hear any comfortable clichés
Comfortable clichés like “all things work together for good”
Or comfortable clichés like “they have gone to a better place.”
I don’t want cheap worded clichés at times like this.
So said Pastor Nathan Nettleson
in his sermon for today.
Book of Job offers a clue.
lost everything. Job lost his family, his farm, his children, his
grandchildren. Everything that was sacred to him. And what was the
initial reaction to Job’s suffering by his friends? In Job 2:13,
the Word of God says, “Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and
seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great
his suffering was.” When we see suffering so great as in
Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka, there is nothing to do but to sit
quietly with those who grieve.
times, there are no words to speak but only the sounds of numbed
then perplexing questions begin to bubble to the surface?
Who is to blame for this enormous tragedy?
As human beings, in the face of tragedy, we instinctively want to
blame someone or something.
as human beings, get sucked into the “blame game” when evil hits
our home, our beach, our friends, our family, my town.
blame game. On TV, I heard people blaming the rich nations of the
world who did not develop a warning system for all the
nations around the globe but simply for the wealthier nations in the
Pacific. The blame game: blame the rich.
blame game. In an interview with a man on the beach, I heard him
defiantly blaming his government for not giving himself warning for
his family to run away from that gigantic tsunami. In his heart, he
was blaming the government for his family’s death. The blame game:
blame the government.
blame game. I heard some people blaming God. Yes, God.
“They shake their fists at heaven
And say that there is no God
Or that God is a callous tyrant.
Such people say,
“Even if God didn’t directly make the tsunami,
Doesn’t God have to accept responsibility
For creating the things that created the tsunami?
Is God somehow exempt from the manufacture’s liability
some people have a need to blame God for tsunamis, hurricanes,
earthquakes, typhoons and
cyclones. The blame game: blame God.
blame game. Some Christian determinists and literalists want to
blame God for evil and quote the Bible to prove their beliefs.
such literalist Christians often quote the Bible and the Book of
Psalm 147, the appointed psalm for today, we hear that God created
the snow, the frost and the hail.
speaks and the ice melts.
“God breaths and the waters flow.”
Christian literalists then conclude
“That God directs the weather,
That Jesus calmed the waves with a word,
And they come to the awful conclusion
That the tsunami is God’s doing.”
Based on their interpretation of the Bible.
They believe that God controls and directs everything, including the
recent tsunami that killed
140,000 people within fifteen minutes.
many human beings get sucked into the “blame-game,” and don’t
read nor comprehend the last four chapters of the Book of Job.
did not comprehend the mystery of suffering and neither do we.
the end of the Book of Job, after thirty seven chapters, God finally
speaks and asks Job, “Where
were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you
have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely
you, Job, know!”
sarcasm about Job. “Surely, Job, you know about he mysteries of
the beginning of the world. Surely Job, you know about the mysteries
of human suffering.”
finally concludes that he does not comprehend the mystery of God and
nor does he comprehend the mystery of human suffering. Job said:
“I have uttered what I did not understand.”
Job had blamed God for his suffering but Job was wrong. Job was
anyone who blames God for tsunamis is wrong. Completely wrong in
their interpretation of the Bible and the love of Jesus Christ.
we ask: “What does the Lord God have to say to these recent events
that occurred on the shores of the Indian Ocean? What does the love
of Jesus say to these things that have happened here on Earth in the
past few days? What does the message of Christmas have to say to
those who lived and died so tragically in the beach towns of
Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka?
this moment of time, can we who proclaim the gospel message say
anything that does not sound trite or like a comfortable cliché?
message of Christmas? En Carnest Est. Latin. God in the flesh. God
came to earth as flesh, real live human flesh, and therefore God
understands the suffering of human flesh. That is, God did not stay
up in the safety of heaven but came down to earth and became a human
being. God became real flesh.
became the flesh of a new born baby.
Cuddly flesh. Brown skinned flesh. Soft flesh.
Real Flesh that grew up.
Real flesh that needed food and water.
Real flesh that cried, no he sobbed, at the death of his best
Real flesh that faced the horrors of Good Friday.
Real flesh of his back which was whipped and dripping blood.
Real flesh of his hands that were pierced by nails.
Real flesh of his forehead that was penetrated by thorns.
Real flesh of his side that was punctured by the thrust of a sword.
Real flesh that died.
did not protect Jesus from being real flesh.
Jesus was the real flesh and body of God on this earth,
And Jesus suffered immeasurably when he was here on Earth in the
the Church, have always taught that the cradle cannot be separated
from the cross.
That the manger cannot be separated from the madness of life.
That the baby on Christmas morning cannot be separated from the
beatings of Good Friday.
truth of the Christmas gospel is that God became flesh.
when the flesh was rotting on the beaches of Indonesia, Thailand and
Sri Lanka, God knew the depths of human pain for he knew the misery
of human flesh.
a local Roman Catholic priest from Sri Lanka said, in the midst of
all of this, “If God did not protect his own Son from the
suffering of humanity, we should not expect to be protected
“Some people want a Messiah who will protect them from every
Some people want a Messiah who will calm the waves before
they get to us.
Some people want a Messiah who will ride in with the cavalry to save
us at the last minute.”
words, In Carnest Est, are not trite words, cliché words, hackneyed
words but are words at the heart of the Christian faith and the
Christmas message. For centuries, in the Roman Catholic liturgy,
during the Mass, when these Latin words were spoken, In Carnest Est,
the people would fall to their knees. These words are at the heart
of the Christian faith.
A second message
of Christmas: Immanuel. The baby Jesus was given the name of
Immanuel, which means, God is with us. As people have often said,
“God is with us … in our mess.” God is with us at all times in
our lives but including times like these. God is with us in the
valleys of the shadows of death. If God is not with us in the
valleys of death, and on the beaches of Indonesia, Thailand and Sri
Lanka, then the truth of the Christmas gospel is a farce for fools.
The promise of the Christmas message is that Jesus had a name and
his name was Immanuel: God is with us … in our mess called life.
third message of Christmas: gifts for those in need. The
three wisemen for example. As the three wisemen came to Jesus, they
carried their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The poor baby
Jesus and his poor parents, Mary and Joseph, needed those gifts as
they traveled to Egypt to escape the killing wrath of King Herod. At
the very heart of the Christmas message, is to give gifts to
those in need. The wisemen gave their gifts to the poor Holy
Family who needed their gifts for their survival and travel to
Nicholas symbolizes the giving of gifts to those in need.
Originally, Jolly old St. Nicholas was not a red-suited
advertisement created for the Coca Cola company in the 1931, but St.
Nicholas was a real live bishop in Turkey of the fourth century who
gave gifts to needy children. Christmas is about giving of gifts
to those in need.
today, we know who needs our Christmas gifts. We all know the needs,
for years to come, among those families in the twelve nations in the
Indian ocean, those 140,000 people who were part of God’s family,
and part of your family and part of my family. You know their need.
Your heart wants to give them needed gifts, not only now when the
cameras are focused on their plight, but when the cameras are gone
and the world has again forgotten, as it inevitably does, you and I
want to be there, with Christ, helping these people to slowly
rebuild their lives. We give them gifts to help them begin again.
Because of the truth about Christmas. The truth? Immanuel: God with
us. En Carnest Est. God
with us in the flesh. Gifts to those in need.
Christmas Tsunami? The very words are strange.