Christmas Eve, December 24th, 2016
Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-20
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Two thousand years ago, there was a man who was called the Savior. He rescued his people from the doubts, fears, and wars that consumed them, and so they called him the Prince of Peace. He was worshiped as a god. His face was put on the money. He brought a new peace and prosperity that was supposed to last forever. And his name was Caesar Augustus, Emperor of Rome. He did some great things, but within a century the peace he created had crumbled, replaced by civil war and corruption. No empire lasts forever; no merely human peace can prevent hostilities. And the only salvation a human can bring is temporary, limited, and finite. The good news that Emperor Augustus brought did not long outlast him.
But during his reign, something else happened. A baby was born. Not in a palace, not in the center of power, but in a stable in a backwater town in a backwater region of a remote region of his empire. A baby born to a poor, ordinary couple, completely unremarkable in every way except one: God had chosen them to raise his son, Jesus, born on a cold winter’s night, in poverty and obscurity.
While the man the world called the prince of peace was feasting in his palace, attended to by slaves and courtiers, the true prince of peace was being laid in a manger. While Emperor Augustus was sending out messengers with his laws and decrees, God was sending angels to shepherds and wise men with an invitation. God’s instructions were simple: don’t be afraid, for something wonderful has just happened. Go see the baby in the manger, and rejoice, for there is good news for all people!
And they went, and they saw, and they told everyone, and everyone who heard it was amazed. But you know, the Bible didn’t say what they were amazed at. Did they believe? Was it that kind of amazement? Or was it the kind of amazement where they were surprised and perplexed at the things the shepherds and wise men told them? Because then, as now, they were used to saviors and princes of peace like Emperor Augustus. So what did they think when they were told that their savior, the one to bring peace, was an ordinary-looking baby born in the middle of nowhere in a stable? Could they imagine the kind of peace and joy and hope that the baby was born to bring, or were they imagining the kind of peace and joy and hope that they were used to? Could they really believe that it was for all people? Can we?
Emperor Augustus brought peace through the sword. He was a great military leader who crushed his enemies, and then used politics to benefit his supporters. He made sure that his supporters prospered and his enemies suffered. It was great news if you were one of his people, but bad news if you were one of his enemies. And so the enemies became bitter, and just waited for the chance to strike back, and others just coveted Augustus’ power and sought to take it from his successors, and the peace that Augustus brought could not last. That’s the way the world works, so often. We make peace by suppressing violence, rather than by building relationships. We treat life like a zero-sum game where no-one can benefit unless someone else suffers. And so what’s good news for one group is bad news for another. And so conflict flourishes, jealousy and hate prevail, and peace is more of a temporary ceasefire than a lasting reality.
That is not the kind of peace that Jesus came to bring. That is not the Good News that Jesus is for all people. Jesus didn’t make those kinds of distinctions. Jesus came for everyone: rich and poor alike, men and women, old and young, sinners and saints, of all races and tribes and nations. For those who were sick or hurting, Jesus brought healing. For those who were lonely or outcast, Jesus brought community. For those who were hungry, Jesus brought food. For those who were oppressed, Jesus brought the promise of justice. For those who were rich, Jesus brought the promise of a deeper love and joy and purpose than is found in mere possessions. For the sinners, Jesus brought forgiveness. For those who were imprisoned, Jesus brought the promise of freedom. For all people, Jesus brought new life. For everyone, good news and hope. The kind of good news and hope that endure in good times and bad.
That is the kind of Good News Jesus came to bring 2,000 years ago, and that is the Good News that Jesus continues to bring to all who open their hearts and minds to him. Not the good news brought by politicians or military leaders. Not the good news that benefits only some and hurts others. But good news for all people, good news that endures no matter what, that brings a peace the world cannot understand. Thanks be to God.