Before I begin any sermon, I review the ones that I’ve preached the last time the scripture selection comes around. I do this for a number of reasons. 1. It keeps me humble. More often than not I re-read them and think, “oh, those poor people of God who listened to this…” 2. It’s a history. I look back at the current events that was going on that day three years ago.
As I prepared sermons this year I noticed that national events and overall mood really hasn’t changed much over the past three years even though the contexts have changed between these sermons.
The unrest and contention in our cities with the powers that be, countries that seem just a bit closer to collapse than they were a year ago, another friend or loved one dies from cancer or another disease that defies cure, and governments that remind the world that they are here by rattling their nuclear sabers.
It is against this backdrop that we came together this Christmas eve to sing carols, recall the angel’s proclamation of “do not be afraid…peace on earth”, light our candles and hear the Christmas story.
As we step back into the Luke’s world, we also find a dark, hostile world. People lived on the margins because it was safer there. The big empire under which they lived was flexing its muscles – bullying its people, rattle its sabers, moving people around like pawns on a chess board.
Rome’s Pax Romana – Roman Peace – program was well underway and things were looking up for the most powerful in the land. The wealthy lived in lavish homes and owned slaves. The poor, however, continued to be poor. Justice and peace didn’t extend to them.
Emperor Augustus and Governor Quirinius didn’t care about pregnant women or shepherds. The events in Bethlehem didn’t catch the attention of the two most powerful people in the world.
They had other priorities – an army needed to be clothed and fed, taxes needed to be collected. The governor wanted a census – can’t know what you’re going to get unless you know what you have. Quirinius wanted to make sure that he got his due from everyone.
Bethlehem was a busy place, filled to the brim with family – taxes weren’t on their minds… being with their loved ones was first and foremost and it was a grand reunion!
On a hillside overlooking the small town, shepherds huddled around the dying fire, bedded down for the night. But they weren’t really sleeping – shepherds never do. It was at these dark hours that the wolves came to take was what was not theirs, to rob the poorest of the poor of what little they had. No family came for them.
And then the night sky exploded! God’s angel army stood in full array and exhibiting the glory that belongs to God and God alone.
Here it is! God’s promise kept. God shows up where we least expect God to be. God wrapped in human skin in the form of a baby laying in a manger. No wonder the angels said “fear not” – Bible speak for God is doing a new thing in a way that you could never anticipate and it will be amazing and it will blow your mind!
In a simple stall with simple parents the world’s greatest peace came to us.
God shows up and gives us the gift of salvation and that tag reads, “To you, love God!”
The good news of Jesus Christ set in the midst of world events and reminds us of the promise that God is working through those who feel small and insignificant to change the world – like a young woman and a little baby.
The angels make their announcement. Not to the Emperor. Not to the Governor. But to a bunch of shepherds living on the margins of society.
It is to these people who live in the margins, on the outside looking in…to these people and to us that the angels bring good news of God’s wonderful gift, wrapped in swaddling bands.
The angels read the gift tag : “to YOU is born this day in the city of David, savior who is the Messiah, the Lord.
To you. Great joy for all people. ALL people – because when God or an angel says all, God means all – not qualifications needed.
We stand where the shepherds stood. In that strange in-between time when anticipation turns to participation. We stand at the same cattle stall, astounded by the sight, overcome by the news.
Can it be believed?
This little one that is called Jesus – the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for all!
Yes, all of this seems so improbable – how can this God even know that we exist, much yet love and cherish us? It’s too good to be true, right? A baby that would save the world?
The shepherds couldn’t linger too long – the sheep were left alone on the hill, to fend for themselves against the dark of night and predators that were more than ready to seize an opportunity when they saw it.
It was time to return. It was time to take the road back.
Did they dance their way back to the field? Did their joy dissipate with step as they got closer to their cold reality?
What about us? It will soon be time to return as well. Return to the reality of jobs, bills, taxes and list goes on. Will we be able to dance? What about our joy?
Yes! We can carry with us the JOY that is Christ. The JOY that makes our hearts dance, our souls sing. Let go! Fully immerse ourselves in the joy that is Christ, to be joyful in our journeys – as we go back to our fields, back to the mundane.
Hum the angel’s song, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those whom he favors.
As it was with Mary, may we ponder all these things in our hearts as we remember those words of the angels…the words on the gift tag of the little one…
Do not be afraid…to you is born a savior… be at peace.