This night - A sermon for Christmas Eve based on Luke 2: 1-20
There is something familiar about this night, a night in which we are still as we prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus into this world. But let not the familiarity take from us the awe at what is accompished in this night.
You see this is the night in which we celebrate the wonder of Incarnation which put simply means God taking on human flesh. Or as Charles Wesley puts it in poetic language;
"Our God contracted to a span incomprehensibly made man."
Yes tonight we celebrate God in the baby becoming one of us. And there we can encounter a mystery that can occupy and stimulate us throughout our lives. Yet this evening I want for a moment to look at how God's working in these happenings, informs how we see the world and ourselves.
One of Luke's themes is Jubilee. Jubilee was a biblical concept that took hold amongst the early people of Israel as they built their nation. It was a concept rooted in justice. Every 50 years debt would be cancelled (whatever would the bankers say about that?), slaves would be free and families would regain possession of their ancestral land. This would stop power and wealth being concentrated in just a few hands and serve as a protection against the ravages of poverty. But like so many good ideas it had ceased to happen and society had become inherently unjust.
Yet Luke sees the hope of a new era of Jubilee. Already Mary in her Song, the Magnificat, has spoken of a reversal of fortune in which the poor and powerless would be raised up and the mighty brought down. And this is very much at the heart of Luke's Nativity.
The story begins with the pregnancy of young peasant girl. Shamed she may be yet within her womb she carries the very presence of God. Given respite from the unkind stares of the self righteous only by a journey to Bethlehem for registration, she is the epitome of powerlessness and rejection.
But what of the powerful? In Luke's story it is the machinations of empire that require the trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem. There is nothing nice about this trek for a preganant woman yet by creating the need for the journey, the empire unknowingly prepares the path for the One who comes to judge the powers.
Soon Mary will be in a home - the word translated as inn is elsewhere used by Luke as an upper room and a different word again is used in Luke's only reference to a commercial inn - a home probably owned by relatives for we have already been told she had relatives in that part of Palestine. Doubtless full to the brim, the home owner would have supplied the traditional hospitality of peasant society.
Soon, very soon would come the final contraction. Soon the baby would be born ready to face life as an outsider with questionable birth.
But wait! Another twist is ready to break into our story. Now the action turns to the fields outside of Bethlehem. And here are rank outsiders, shepherds. Unclean, the lowest of the low, men who lived outside the margins of decent society. Yet to these comes the announcement of the holy birth. It comes from angels, those who pronounce the perspective of God. And what do these expendables do? They take heed. They take the risk of leaving their flocks. Why? So that even they can see what God has done.
It is a marvel of Luke's story. The events of this night bypass the powerful. This instead is a night in which it is the lowly people who are exalted as Mary has herself sang that they would.
Oh this is a night of glorious new beginnings. The values of the world are a changing as God works amongst the nobodies whilst passing the powerful by. For in this night God is changing the world upside down. Caesar Augustus in Rome may have been lauded as "saviour of the world" but now Luke's angels pit him against Jesus a "saviour" for the world. In time to come we see that played out in conflict between the empire's "love of power" and the "powerless love" that Jesus will embody.
Bob Dylan once sang "the times, they are a changin." And on this holy night they sure are changing. Divine embodied love and grace are entering the world. A presence and a vision that are worth our following are now unleashed amongst us. And today wherever power, war, economics and even religion dehumanise the lowly, this night proclaims loudly that they are contrary to the ways of God.
Mary, we are told, pondered these things. Perhaps we too need to find some space amidst the busyness of this season to ponder them too. After all this child most certainly is not for just one day.