"Hinge of History!"
a sermon delivered by
Rev Lloyd H. Dunham
on Sunday, December 23, 2001
at Community Unitarian Universalist Church
Daytona Beach, Florida

Scripture:
Galatians 4:1-7
John 15:12-17

There is virtually no government
or social institution
any where in the world
that isn't touched by the infant of Bethlehem!
By virtue of adopting the Christian calendar
Jesus is honored,
whether by intention
or by convenience.

Among Jews
this is the year 5762.
According to ancient Jewish tradition,
creation occurred that many years ago.
Certainly no one would attempt to make a serious case
for that today -
yet it stands as a symbolic point for the measurement of time.

The Chinese have their own special calendar,
as do the people of Islam.
In Islam the years are numbered
from the flight of Mohamed from Mecca to Medina,
a major event for them.

For all people
the calendar is numbered
from some significant turning point of history.
For Christians,
the birth of Jesus
is the "hinge of history".

At the very minimum
this fact honors the carpenter of Nazareth
as no other person is honored
in all of human history.

How is it
that all that occurred prior to his birth
is marked "B.C."
and from his birthdate
the years are numbered backwards into history?
How is it that all that follows
is designated as occurring in
A.D.,
Anno Domini,?

Some people have universalized this Christian calendar
by changing B.C. to B.C.E.,
meaning "Before the Common Era."
A.D. is then replaced with C.E.,
meaning "Common Era".
While these designations
remove the obvious Christian designations,
there is no escape from the fact
that "Common Era" is defined
by the assumed date of the birth of Jesus.

Our present system of numbering the years
did not come about
until about 500 years after Jesus
when a monk by the name of Dionysius
introduced the idea of
numbering the years from the birth of Jesus.
He miscalculated by four to six years,
but the point was made.
It took some 900 years
for his numbering system to be adopted
in most western countries.
Thus it was not until about 1400
that most of the world counted its years
the way we do.
Now it is virtually universal.

How strange it must seem
to those who are not Christian,
this whole idea
of Jesus being the turning point of history!

What is it about Jesus of Nazareth,
that has so changed our history
and often changes individual lives
and community values?

What happened in that humble stable,
behind the inn in Bethlehem
or wherever Jesus was born,
was lost on the world at the time
and for years to come.
Jesus' story,
the story that was told over and over again
before it was set down on parchment
to be preserved for others,
that story of Jesus usually started with his baptism.
It was a story about three short years
in which that carpenter/teacher
turned the religious institutions of his time
upside down.
In three short years
he gave the world
the most commanding glimpse of God
that the world has ever known.
His life changed the course of human history.

So then why not go back to remember
as best we can,
how he was born.
That is exactly what the early Christians did.
His life,
his teachings,
had changed their lives --
and so they wanted to honor him,
even in his birth.
They painted a beautiful picture
of the infant Jesus
who must have come into history in a very special way.
When Jesus was born
surely angels must have sung with joy.
Surely there must have been a glow about this one
who was destined to change the course of history!
Yet he did not come as royalty.
He did not come as a great and powerful king
on a charging horse,
surrounded by thousands of troops.
No, he came as an the infant son,
as a vulnerable and innocent child,
to two young parents of common status
and meager means.

That story affirms all people of humble status
and dramatizes God's care
for the most vulnerable and most needy.
That story gives us a glimpse at the character of God
that the man Jesus later demonstrated
when he called the little children to him.
This reveals an understanding of God
found no where else in all the world.
Surely this event deserves to be
the hinge of history!

This child
born in a stable
grew up to reveal much about God.
He did it not by his words
though he spoke often of God's love,
but he did it by his actions along the way.
He taught his followers about the power of love.
He taught his followers about forgiveness.
He taught his followers about giving.
He expressed love for rejected people.
He took the risk of going to Jerusalem
where danger awaited him --
and even there he forgave those who took his life.
In him we see an image of the Divine.
In him we see the very highest qualities of human life!
Christians claim that he gives a window
Into the nature of God.
So the infant of Bethlehem has become the hinge of history!

We could call this the year 5762 -- but we don't!
Our hinge of history is no longer God's act in creation!
Our hinge of history is God's gift,
born in a lowly stable bed.
This is the year 2001 of the Common Era!
The birth of the infant Jesus became the hinge of history!

The awesome words of Sydney Carter
heighten the meaning of every new infant
in her poem which reverently asks:
"Who can tell what other cradle,
High above the milky way,
Still may rock the child of hope,
On another Christmas day?

"God above, Child below,
Holy is the name I know."