Isaiah 9: 2 – 7; Luke 2: 8 – 16; Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
We continue our sermon series on “The Senses of Christmas.” Today, we will explore the “sights” of Christmas. When I say “Christmas,” what visual images come to mind? Christmas trees with presents spilling over, stockings hung by the chimney with care, blinking lights, Santa Clause, Rudolph, Frosty, Charlie Brown, a world wrapped in holiday colors of red, green, silver, and gold, a winter wonderland. No doubt, our images of Christmas are warm and sentimental. That first Christmas, however, was not a winter wonderland, covered in a blanket of snow – it was a world where kings rage and wickedness flourishes.
Caesar Augustus decreed, and cruel King Herod enforced, the order that everyone had to go to the city of their ancestors and get registered. Why did Caesar want a census? Likely so that he could tax people more effectively, draft them into the military, allocate resources to squash any political resistance, and keep the Jews under control. The census was a controlling tool. Two thousand years ago, the overall mood in Judea was not warm and sentimental. Quite the opposite.
Yes, we have domesticated Christmas over the years, but that first Christmas was revolutionary – as evidenced by our nativity sets. As we unroll the various characters from their bubble wrap, it would be fitting if we said every time with every character, “What are you doing here?” The entire cast of characters tells a visual story about the subversive message of the nativity. In our Gospel reading this morning, Luke draws our attention to a baby in a manger. Luke is not interested in Caesar Augustus – he’s the old king. In essence Luke says, “I know their game. I am interested in this bizarre new baby king that is arriving.” He’s being born not in a palace. That is where Caesar Augustus would be. This new king is born in a cow stall. There is not even room for him in the Bethlehem Inn. He has to be born in a stable.
This little baby king is too weak to raise his head and he is wrapped in swaddling clothes. Rome is the most powerful empire in the world. Caesar August is free to go wherever he wants. But this true king is not out roaming the world wherever he chooses, he is bound in swaddling clothes, bound to the other in love. He comes vulnerable in love.
He is placed in a manger. Caesar Augusts is the best fed figure in the ancient world. But this real king who chooses not to gluttonously feed himself but is placed in the manger, so he becomes food for the world. A foreshadow of the Last Supper. This is my body. This is my blood. Food and drink for you.
In our nativity sets, we have an angel. They typical response to an angel is fear. People are afraid because the supernatural has broken into the world. This is why angels always greet humans in the Bible with, “Do not be afraid.” The Angel says to the shepherds of all people, the lowliest of the low, “I’ve got good news for you. The anointed one (code language for king) has been born to you.” Not the old king in Rome, but a new king. And then, a whole host of angels appear. In Greek, that word host literally means army. A whole army of angels appear. It sounds like an oxymoron. Who had the biggest army in the whole world at that time? Caesar Augustus. The Romans had the most powerful army. But his army is nothing compared to the army of this baby. This baby has an army of angels. The weapons of heaven are not the pathetic worldly weapons, but these are weapons of hope, peace, love and joy. This is the power that creates the universe. This baby king, according to Luke, is in charge of that angelic army.
In our nativity, we have Mary and Joseph. Mary – a poor, unwed, pregnant teenager. Mary is the least likely person to be chosen to give birth to the Savior of the World. Any self-respecting Jewish man would never have married Mary, but Joseph chooses faith over piety, relationship over religion. If that were not radical enough, we have wisemen from the East. Gentiles are part of the Jewish nativity scene. And not only are they gentiles, but foreigners from the Eat. Gentiles from the East were looked at with great suspicion and fear. For it was gentiles from the East, the Assyrians and Babylonians, who had conquered the Israelites centuries before. Now, the gentiles, the wise men from the East come to pay homage to the baby Jesus.
The Angel did say, “I bring good news of great joy for ALL people.” Shepherds and wise men, poor and rich, indigenous and foreigner, the uneducated and the scholar. “I bring good news of great joy for ALL people.”
The message of the nativity is subversive, radical, revolutionary. Jesus upsets the status quo from the moment he enters the world…not through the force of might but through the power of love.
The Gospel of John puts it this way: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Oh sure, there is still darkness and despair. Kings (political leaders) rage and wickedness flourishes. Children are exploited, women are not believed, color is still the measure of personhood, and wealth is still the measure of worth. Garbage chokes the sea and threats choke the airwaves. There is still darkness and despair, but the light, 2000 years later, the light continues to shine.
I would like to share with you images of the Divine light that shine around the world…even today in 2019…these are the sights of Christmas joy!
This past week, Greta Thunberg, was named “Person of the Year.” The youngest to receive such an honor. Thunberg is being honored for her work that transcends backgrounds and borders. Greta is bringing liberation and healing to our planet. The light continues to shine…
A husband and wife plant 2.7 million trees in 20 years to restore a destroyed forest. The light continues to shine.
An indigenous tribe wins a legal battle against oil companies, preventing drilling on half a million acres of their ancestral land in the Amazon rainforest. The light continues to shine…
A firefighter gives water to a koala after the devastating brushfires in Australia. The light continues to shine.
Speaking of firefighters, this firefighter rescues a 6-year-old boy from a fire in Indiana. A huge thank you to our firefighters for their tremendous work this fire season. The light continues to shine.
Do you remember this dog? Miracle – three weeks with no food or water trapped under a collapsed structure from the hurricane in the Bahamas. Over 10,000 inquiries came in to adopt Miracle – from as far as London and Australia. The light continues to shine.
Despite 14 stitches and a black eye (and battling cancer), 95-year-old Jimmy Carter helps build Habitat for Humanity homes in Tennessee. The light continues to shine.
An elementary student was bullied for making a homemade University of Tennessee t-shirt and wearing it to school. So, the University of Tennessee made the U.T, design into an official t-shirt. The light continues to shine.
Dad gets a tattoo, so his daughter won’t feel so different. The light continues to shine.
A military woman is reunited with her daughter after serving in Iraq for 7 months. The light continues to shine.
Pope Francis and the Grand Imam kiss each other kiss each other after signing a document to fight extremism in an interfaith meeting. The light continues to shine.
Brandt Jean, the younger brother of a man who was murdered in his living room by this Dallas police officer. The younger brother asked to hug the police officer. The light continues to shine.
U.S. and Mexican families play on seesaws installed through the barrier along the Mexican / US border on July 28th of this year. The light continues to shine.
John declares, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” May we see with the eyes of the soul, the sights of Christmas, the light of Christ in our very presence. For that light continues to shine! Amen.