[Sermon preached on Sunday, December 24, 2017 (Christmas Eve, Year B) at Saint Paul’s Church on Lake of the Isles – Minneapolis, Minnesota]
Good evening. Welcome, and thank you so much for responding to our casting call. We are so excited to have so many talented applicants wanting to fill the roles of our new Broadway production – Jesus Christ Superstar, the Prequel. For those who aren’t too familiar with this production, think Hamilton only with a lot more farm animals, a good deal more singing (if that is even possible), some pretty fancy robes, oh, and maybe some gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Many of you know the basic plot of play. Mary has conceived the Son of God and is traveling with her husband-to-be, Joseph, to his ancestral home, Bethlehem. While visiting Bethlehem she gives birth Jesus Christ, and in so doing, gives birth to new life to all of Creation.
This story matters a great deal to us, and this production of Jesus Christ Superstar, the Prequel seeks to faithfully convey the gravity. I cannot underscore enough how excited I am for this production. It will be nothing short of epic.
But beneath the familiar story of Christmas, Jesus Christ Superstar, the Prequel seeks to raise up the deeper meaning of the story. Through the birth of the Son of God, “God has touched human life, has assumed human life, has planted the seed of a new and glorious spiritual development.” Everything is different now. “This day revolutionizes creation. This day creation is flooded by a great light and gladdened by a new life coursing through its veins: divine life, that grace by which God effects his indwelling.” Whatever remoteness existed between God and Creation is all gone. “We are no longer lone creatures, struggling in a lonely fashion after a goal perceived only dimly. We, too, because of the Son of God, are now [children] of God, assured of an everlasting inheritance. The awful distance between Creator and creature is now abridged, the gap is closed.” In Christ we are brought back home. Peace and reconciliation are possible across even the widest of chasms.
We’ve contacted Renita Weems, a Womanist theologian and writer, to help us write the play. She recently wrote an article entitled “Birthing Hope in a Time of Anxiety” where she says, “Childbirth is a common trope in scripture for political crisis and uncertainty. Childbirth (and pregnancy) spotlight a mother’s sacrifice, discomfort, suffering, and the unknown outcome of her labor. Divine deliverance will come, but not without near unbearable periods of turmoil, disaster, uproar, and darkness.” The birth of Christ is the birth of our deliverance. The things that once held us captive need no longer do so because of Mary’s courage and Christ’s birth. All things are made new. Laboring to build a new world is a part of this production of Jesus Christ Superstar, the Prequel – and we need your help to make it a success.
There are lots of roles in the play and I want you to consider closely which role you desire to fill. I am confident that, with your best effort and dedication, this will be an amazing production.
First, we have “Emperor Augustus” and “Governor Quirinius.” Augustus represents the utter brokenness of the world – power that shows itself primarily in abuse and domination. Augustus doesn’t care much about those around him, particularly those who are different from him. He wants to control them, not love them or be loved by them. He only cares only for power for power’s sake.
Quirinius is the type of person who helps Augustus by not challenging him. He is uncritically loyal to the Roman Empire because he benefits from the world that Roman peace has created even if there are many who are not as fortunate. Quirinius values an uneasy peace over constructive dialogue that creates a new, better world. Quirinius gets angry when his ordered life is disturbed by the cries of the hungry, the poor, and the oppressed. Both Augustus and Quirinius are our antagonists. They attempt to stand in opposition to the coming Kingdom of God.
On the other hand, we have “Joseph.” Joseph is a prime example of what it looks like to have the plan of God interrupt your life, but to embrace the surprise with grace. Even when Joseph was perfectly within his cultural rights to put Mary away in shame for conceiving a child before their marriage, he didn’t.
He believes her.
He supports her.
He loves her.
Our Joseph much of speaking role in Jesus Christ Superstar, the Prequel, but his personality looms large. Whoever fills this role will need to be a strong but not overwhelming presence. The ideal candidate for Joseph would be someone who feels called to a supportive role, someone who doesn’t need to full limelight to shine.
In Christ we are brought back home. Peace and reconciliation are possible across even the widest of chasms.
The next role we have for you consider is the “Virgin Mary.” Now, the way our writers have chosen to interpret her role, Mary has recovered her original, biblical bravery. She is not the quiet, docile, domesticated woman we might like her to be. She’s strong. She’s resilient. She’s faithful. She is powerful. She is bold. And she has to be. She carries hope even when all seems lost. Our consultant, Dr. Weems, suggests that “when the laboring mother gives up hope, the baby has almost no chance. The mother must keep going. Keep hoping.” Maintaining hope in the face of so many reasons to give it away takes strength and fortitude. If you want to fill the role of “Mary,” you must keep hope alive.
We will not be filling the role of “Baby Jesus” because, let’s be honest, those are some big shoes to fill.
But we are, however, filling the role of “The Shepherds.” “The Shepherds” are basically innocent bystanders in this whole thing. They aren’t told anything is happening until it has already happened. But, when confronted with the full force of the glory of heaven, they believe! They are busy tending the sheep, but they aren’t so busy that they miss the glad tidings. We are casting several shepherds and I think there many who might want to consider this role. The ideal actor would be someone who is busy with life, family, work or other social obligations, but who desire to be open to experiencing holy surprises.
On the other hand, we are casting for the role of Innkeeper – a person too busy to stop, too full to welcome. I don’t know that the innkeeper intended to be inhospitable. The Innkeeper did, after all, offer a stable to the road-weary Mary and Joseph. They should be grateful they were offered anything at all, right? But in their attempt to be efficient, the innkeeper might have missed a great opportunity to be hospitable and welcoming. he was just too full to receive the Son of God in his most vulnerable moment. He is aloof, removed, and rushed.
Finally, we are auditioning for the Angelic Choir. Now, try to contain yourself, but we have some pretty heavy hitters lined up to sing with the choir. Last check, I think we had commitments from Patti LaBelle, Adele, Cher, Mick Jagger, and (wait for it) the one and only Queen herself – Beyoncé. This is pretty amazing. You don’t necessarily need to sing well to be in the choir, but you do need to exude excitement. After all, you are bearing the Good News of the birth of Christ to the world. You crash through curtain of eternity to bring the greatest news ever shared – that God’s love for us is so great that it overflowed the limitlessness of eternity to saturate all of Creation with newness and to raise us to new relationship with God.
You also must have a good set of jazz hands.
These are the roles we are casting. As you can see, there are lots of roles and lots of opportunities to share in this production. You don’t want to miss this opportunity. Some critics have promised that this is going to be an “earth-shattering” and “life-changing” production.
“This is no myth, no fairy story, no yarn woven by an enchantress in evening firelight. This is the breathtaking reality of God’s love bursting all confines, all limits and boundaries, all the ‘foundational decencies’ of a proud and self-sufficient natural order, and seizing our human nature in a permanent embrace.”
Which one are you? Prideful Augustus? Supportive Joseph? Brave Mary? Disinterested Innkeeper? Curious Shepherds? The Dazzling Angelic Chorus?
This story matters.
It is of cosmic and eternal significance.
Because of this night, everything is different.
We have been raised to God, kissed with divinity, showered in grace, embraced by love.
How we behave in this new world determines what roles we occupy in the inbreaking of the Reign of God.
I don’t know about you, but I am ready to give the performance of my life.
 Robert Hovda. No Land of Shadows (St. Paul: North Central Publishing Company), p. 4-5.
 Renita Weems. “Birthing Hope in a Time of Anxiety: Advent in a Time of Trial,”
Hovda. No Land in Shadows, p. 17-18.