12/25/2013 sermon: Locating yourself in THE story

Location: Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, VA
Text: Luke 2:1-20
Christmas Eve II

Locating yourself in THE story

As I often do with scripture lessons, I wonder who you are in this oh-so-familiar story that is our gospel lesson for today. Have you picked a character with whom to identify? Where have you placed yourself in this story?

I counted the characters, and there are seven, or maybe eight, characters from which to choose (not counting baby Jesus; I am sure that none of you envision yourself as baby Jesus). I will tell you right now that I do NOT suggest that you be ALL the characters.

I don’t suggest, for example, that you be Emperor Augustus or Governor Quirinius. These were bit players in today’s lesson. They are only mentioned in passing to explain how and when an inconsequential couple from Nazareth) came to be in Bethlehem when the Messiah was born. Neither Augustus nor Quirinius was a bit player in real life, though. Augustus founded the Roman Empire, ruling from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD. Quirinius had authority over an area that included Judea from 6 to 12 CE. So they each had great power, and if power and political might is what you seek, perhaps you identify with these two characters. Will you, like Augustus and Quirinius, seek power instead of the Christ-child?

Joseph was no bit player. Joseph was the person who was called by God to be the husband of Mary even though she was pregnant with a child that was not his. Joseph’s role was to be the step-father of Jesus. To carry out his role, Joseph had to be obedient to God, putting aside his own judgment and pride to do what God had asked him to do. Will you, like Joseph, be obedient to God? Will you go to the improbable places that God sends you and turn your will and your pride over to God?

I am counting King David as a character in today’s lesson because he was deeply embedded in the story. The Jewish expectation was that there would be a Messiah, a savior, come to restore Israel’s independence by reinstituting the reign of King David.

Did you know that Jewish law forbid the taking or participating in censuses? So Emperor Augustus’ decree for a census, and Governor Quirinius’ enforcement of the decree, set off protest among the Jews and formation of the Zealots, a band of ultra-patriotic Jewish nationalists who would try to take back their country back from the Romans by force. This expectation of a political Messiah, would prevent many Jews from recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. David represents our ultra patriotism; will you, like the Jews of Jesus’ day, hold so tightly to your own understanding of God’s promises that you fail to recognize that God has been born among us?

Perhaps, though, you are an angel. Angels are celestial beings whose function is to proclaim messages from God. The angels in this story proclaimed an earth-changing, cataclysmic event: God has come to be with us.

I know that many of you would like to be angels—are angels, at least the human form thereof—because you spend a lot of time trying to sing like angels: singing God-songs and proclaiming “Glory to God.” Please notice, though, that angels appear foremost to those who do not already know the God-story. They don’t go to the Temple to sing, but to the cold, dark fields of smelly sheep and shepherds, and sing their God-songs there. Will you, like the angels, tell everyone you encounter the Good News of Jesus’ birth? Will you radiate and sing for joy at your salvation, even as the press of this life makes this a true exercise of courage and faith?

Perhaps, though, you are the shepherds. As many of us heard last night, shepherds were not exactly high in the social structure of their time, or any time, for that matter. They certainly weren’t rich, or they would have hired someone else to be out in the fields with the stupid, smelly sheep. They certainly weren’t religious, or they would have been doing a job that allowed them to attend temple on the Sabbath. But I like what the shepherds did. They left their sheep and went to see for themselves what God’s messengers had told them. And then they went and told THIS message to everyone that they knew: “To you is born this very day… a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.”

Will you, like the shepherds, go discover the Christ child for yourself and tell others? There are people who are waiting and wanting and wishing to hear this news of how God is acting in your life.

The final character in our lesson today is Mary. I have saved her for last because she had a very important role to play in birthing God into our world. As you know from earlier in Luke’s gospel, Mary said “yes” to God, “yes” that she would participate in God’s plan for our salvation. In our lesson today, though, Mary has a more passive role. Mary merely gives birth to the Christ-child, as she already had agreed to do.

Perhaps you see yourself as Mary, birthing new God-realities into our world. I certainly hope that you participate in God’s plan of salvation, as did Mary.

Those of you who know me will know that I am forever suggesting that we need to tell others what God has done for us, to tell others how God is at work in and through our lives. You will notice in our gospel lesson today that Mary didn’t tell anyone these things. Instead, Mary “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” So, in some ways I hope that you will emulate Mary and Joseph by being obedient to God, but emulate the shepherds and angels by telling others.

Alleluia! Unto us a child is born.
O come, let us adore him. Alleluia!

©Jo J. Belser

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