December 24, 2014
Christmas Eve Service
Grace and Peace to you this evening. Grace and Peace.
The world into which Jesus was born seems so far removed from our own. The major religious groups of his day were pretty diverse. There were those who aligned religion with the powers that be, so that religion and the goals and methods of empire were hard to differentiate. Mostly this was a way to secure and maintain their own status and power. Wait. That does sounds a little familiar.
There were other religious types who wanted everyone to follow the same rules they did, and excluding from community those who did not go along. Hang on. That sounds familiar, too.
There were groups of people upset with the taxation that Caesar Augustus called for in tonight’s reading. They worked at political and even military resistance. We do not know if they drank tea or held parties.
The more radical elements of the disenchanted were called “sicarii” or “dagger men” and they practiced public assassinations of people they saw as collaborators with the empire. This sounds too familiar as well in the wake of the murder of police officers in several cities.
All of this was set against the backdrop of the Empire of Rome, who used intimidation, demonstrations of military might, and public executions, often by crucifixion, to try and keep the “peace.”
It was a time when the very few had most of the wealth, and the vast majority were reliant on that day’s wages for that night’s food.
And in such a world a man and his wife traveled to his ancestral home. Their family story is an unusual family story because she is pregnant and he knows it was not him. Their family story is not so unusual, because we all have some part of our lives that does not match the list we made for ourselves, some aspect that we would rather not admit to the town gossip, some way in which our story deviated from the script we thought we were supposed to be acting.
Into such a world as this comes an angelic word:
Do not be afraid.
Into such a world as this comes an infant, with all the mess and innocence and lack of sleep and difficulties and glory that surrounds an infant.
And into such a world as this comes one who will show a more excellent way. One who will show that they way to live is not like the dagger men, nor like those who collaborate with empire. The way of life is neither like those who use religion to approve of violence or use coercion on behalf of religion. One who will show with his very life and death that we are all in this together, that being the only way this works.
And because God works in strange and mysterious ways, his wonders to perform, this is done not in the halls of religion or the halls of power or the markets of commerce. Jesus is going to be found wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in the feed trough of animals, because in such a world as this, we seem to think there is not enough room for everybody.
In a world that feels so broken, so fragile, comes the love of God who will say:
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are
carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
But that message will have to wait. For tonight belongs to those who hear the words “Do not be afraid,” and against all odds, listen to them. Tonight belongs to those who travel far to come and see what God is doing in our midst. Tonight belongs to those who treasure these things up, pondering them in their hearts.
Tonight belongs to those who will return…
glorifying and praising God for all
they had heard and seen,
as it had been told them.
For unto us a child is born. And even in a world such as ours, so fragile, so broken, so yearning, God is once again making all things new.
Thanks be to God