Thursday, December 24, 2015

Sermon; Christmas I & II; Luke 2:1-20

So this is Christmas.  Houses are decorated up with inflatable Santas, snowmen, Nativity scenes, trees, and lights.  Families gather, gifts are exchanged, photos taken, meals eaten, and memories made.  For many people, Christmas has a mystical, mythical, and magical quality about it.

Sometimes those qualities give us a sense of peace and fulfillment.  Images of horse-drawn sleighs gliding through winter wonderlands, or of horse-drawn carriages winding through holiday decorated city streets, visits with Santa, or glimpses through windows of warmly lighted homes fill our hearts and heads of what Christmas should look like.  And whenever I hear Bing Crosby sing, “I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,” my mind goes back to one specific street in Spokane.

But the reality is that for many people, Christmas is neither mystical nor mythical, let alone magical, and a sense of peace and fulfillment is as unattainable as living on Mars.  If we are honest, we will recognize that this alternate reality has been the actual reality for people since the birth of Christ (and long before that, but since we are talking about Christmas, we'll let that go).  For the best example of this, we need look no further than tonight's gospel reading.

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.

In those days Rome ruled the world of the Mediterranean.  In those days the people of Judea were living side by side with the forces of an occupying army.  In those days Emperor Augustus decreed a census so as to more accurately tax the people of Roman-occupied countries.

A hard life in 1st Century Palestine, made harder by Roman occupation, was now leaning toward intolerable with the decree of the census and tax.  Those in power would use that power to control the powerless, and to find ways to garner more power.  The world of 1st Century Palestine was a difficult place for those living on the margins, and it was being made more difficult by this latest example of the powerful requiring submission of the lowly.  There was a lot to be fearful of.

There was a fear of the occupiers.  There was a fear of losing your way of life.  There was a fear of not being able to provide for your family.  There was a fear of outsiders.  But it was into this very difficult situation that Jesus was born.  And it was in this difficult situation that angels appeared to some of the lowest people on the societal rung and said, “Fear not.”  Into this world of fear, abuse, oppression, and corruption comes news of great joy; to you is born this day a Savior.

In some ways, things haven't changed all that much between the days of Jesus' birth and today.  Although we are not an occupied nation, there are plenty of fears to go around.  We are bombarded by messages of fear – fear our neighbors, fear those of different nationalities, fear people of color, fear people of different religions, fear those who might take more than their fair share.  The world is telling us to protect ourselves from Them because They are out to destroy our way of life – even though we are all Them to someone.

The world of today can seem just as difficult for those living on the margins.  In fact, it may seem more difficult as what we define as “the margins” are expanded ever wider, claiming more and more people.  But it is into this very difficult situation that we proclaim and celebrate the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus.  Into this world of fear, abuse, oppression, and corruption comes news of great joy; to you is born this day a Savior.  And it is in this difficult situation that angels appear and say, “Fear not.”

Fear not – do not fall victim to xenophobia and fear people of other nationalities.  Fear not – do not fall victim to racial prejudice and fear people of color.  Fear not – do not fall victim to the fear of other religions.  Fear not – do not fall victim to an ideology of scarcity, fearing you will not have enough by allowing others to have more.

Do not fear, because this night we are given good news.  The good news of God comes in the form of a baby to an as-yet unwed mother in a place meant only for the animals.  It is this baby who is the light of the world.

This Christmas, as with all Christmases, we again have the opportunity and obligation to compare two operating systems.  One system operates from an ideology of scarcity, fear, and domination: scarcity that there is not enough to go around; fear of others and all that entails; and the belief that dominating others is the path to victory and self-preservation.

The other system operates from an ideology of abundance, assurance, and sacrifice: abundance that there is enough for all if we choose to allow it; assurance in the plan of God; and the sacrifice of our own selfish desires for the love of God and others.

One system operates from a position of force.  The other system operates from a position of quiet invitation and revolution.

In a world whose goal seems to constantly beat down the weak, oppress the marginalized, and keep power centralized with a few, God breaks through in the form of a baby.  As with all babies, this baby gives light to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds who saw him.  Unlike any other baby, this baby is the light of the world.  God has come into the world, not as a conquering military force to dominate, but as a tiny human being looking for love.

So this is Christmas.  May you accept the invitation to welcome a child into your midst.  Amid all the holiday lights, may you follow the true light of season and the light of the world.  And more than anything, may you fear not, for today is a day of great joy.

Merry Christmas.


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