Christmas Eve, December 24, 2019
Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-20
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Chinook and Naselle Lutheran Churches, WA
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Luke’s account of Jesus birth begins with power and might—worldly power, that is. “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.” The Roman Empire ruled as much of the world as it could conquer, and exercised influence through threat of military reprisals on an even larger area. To Romans, anyone who wasn’t a Roman citizen was a barbarian … and they made a distinction between being a citizen, who had rights, and merely being a subject, someone who lived in the Roman Empire, but didn’t have rights, and this latter category was the majority of the population. Rome prided itself on having brought peace, but it was the peace of a sword. They called the Emperor the Prince of Peace, but it was a peace based on killing anyone who disagreed, and selling their children into slavery. It was a peace based on the idea might was right. There were no checks and balances, no pretense of neutral courts. Parents had a right to do whatever they wanted to their children, up to and including killing them. Husbands had a right to do whatever they wanted to their wives and concubines, up to and including killing them. Slaveoners had the same rights over slaves, and slaves made up a large and ever-growing proportion of the Roman population. Things that we would consider horrific abuses were believed to be right and good. And over it all, the Emperor reigned, oppressing the poor so that he and his favorites might be enriched. This was all seen as inevitable and good. Goodness, for the Roman Empire, lay in the exercise of power, and obedience to authority.
So when the Emperor to be sure he was squeezing every last bit of taxes possible out of the poorest and most marginalized people, he declared a census of the entire world—or, at least, the part of it he controlled, which to him was the same thing. And so it was, that a two newlyweds–the wife heavily pregnant–had to leave home and go to a distant town called Bethlehem, because that was where the husband’s family was from. They had to travel knowing that Mary was heavily pregnant and could give birth at any time. They had to travel to a place where they had only distant family, family that might not take them in because Mary had been pregnant already when she and Joseph got married. And they got there, tired and sore, and found that there was no room for them, no room except a stable filled with animals. And so it was, that in a humble stable, in a backwater region, in poverty and disgrace, the God of all creation was born in human flesh. The greatest power in all the universe came not in pomp and splendor, but in weakness, in hardship, in humility, thousands of miles away from any power or authority that humans recognized.
This is not an accident. It is not a coincidence. God chose that poor couple to bear and raise his son. God chose that stable for his son to be born in. God could have arranged for Jesus to be born the son of a great emperor; God could have arranged for Jesus to have all the wealth and prestige and worldly power that the world has to offer. But God didn’t do that, because God sees things very differently than we humans do. God doesn’t care about wealth and human power; God cares about every human being from the smallest to the greatest. God cares about justice for all people, not just the ones on top; God cares about joy and hope and love and life and light, and God wants these things for all people, not just the ones fortunate enough to be born in palaces. When we spend too much time chasing worldly power, we let it shape our views of who matters and who doesn’t, who deserves good things and who can be ignored. But the truth is, nobody gets ignored by God. Nobody gets forgotten. There is no place too small or too humble or too poor for God to be present in, and no human being too wretched or sinful or despised for God to love. And God sent God’s only Son, Jesus, to be born in a stable as a sign for us of what really matters.
I’m going to close with a poem by Ana Lisa de Jon that says this better than I could:
My God is the God of small things.
Nutshells that contain multiple truths
in humble small containers.
My God is the God of small beginnings.
or opening eyelids.
If we but move today
we can accomplish what he asks.
God, my God of swaddled babes
that fumble for the breast
He teaches us the worth of
lying still in trust.
My God is the God of humble things.
Beds of straw.
Lives that don’t amount to much
if judged upon their origins.
My God is the God of silent things.
Passages in the dark.
Quiet incubators, within which cells divide
and muscles stretch towards the light.
God, my God of birth pangs
and pain that finds release
He teaches us that the dark
often precedes new life.
My God is the god of honed things
A carpenter sanding back the wood
to reveal the grain beneath.
My God is the God of beloved things.
Rescued for nothing they have done,
but because of a plan of redemption.
God, my God of Christmas coming
somehow the wonder of Advent
is knowing we need do nothing
but let new life be birthed in us.