“This will be a sign to you: a baby wrapped in rags and lying in the manger” As we hurry towards Christmas cheer, let us slow down and watch for angel’s signs. Ponder the holy mystery- the Creator dwelling with us- the newborn king sleeping in feedbox cradle. Tonight, Almighty God comes as vulnerable as a nursing child. Move past the shimmering the sentimental holiday shallows, hear God’s deeper call.
Luke’s Christmas story begins with “Caesar Augustus” imposing a tax. The title “Caesar Augustus” or “The Most Exalted Ruler or most August King,” speaks of nationalism and idolatry. In fact the Romans named Caesar as a God. The August One broke the republic and expanded the Empire. Luke mentions Quirinius, as governor of Syria. Historians debate Luke’s timeline, but tell us Quirinius’ cruelty stood out. Caesar lurks behind the Christmas story like Darth Vader more than George Washington. Within months, the holy family will flee genocide seeking refuge in Egypt. Luke’s third chapter opens with references to Pontius Pilate and the church power brokers, who unite in an unholy alliance to crucify Jesus.
Let us not miss the signs for the newborn king comes challenging Caesar. Yesterday, we heard Mary’s rebel song: My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for God has looked with favor upon the lowly. The Mighty One gives mercy, scatters the proud, and breaks apart evil thrones. The Lord lifts up the lowly and sends the rich away empty handed. The Lord keeps covenant with the humble!” Can you imagine Mary sweetly singing this anti-establishment lullaby to Jesus?.
The “proclamation of Jesus as Son of God, Lord, and Saviour directly countered Roman Imperial theology…. Jesus was Lord and the emperor was not! “Jesus is Lord” was high treason!… (The)message challenged the normalcy of civilization, then and now, with an alternative vision of how life on earth can and be.” (Marcus Borg- The First Paul)
As the glory of Christmas shines all around us with Bethlehem’s mountain pastures bathed in heaven’s light the heavenly choir break into our world. “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. Today a savior is born for all people, who is the Anointed One, the Lord.. Do you see the signs? Christ comes for all people? Do you see the signs of who this child might be? The titles Lord, Savior, Messiah all come as high treason.
”Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people to you is born this day a Savior, who is the Anointed One, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” What sign will we see? “A Savior, The Lord Incarnate, God’s August Champion, but where where will we find this newborn king? The prince of peace lays in a cow’s feedbox!” The cradle and the cross challenge all crowns and royal carriages. As our clergy planned tonight’s service Jefferson asked: “If Jesus was born into a palace, could he have been the Savior of the world?” What do we learn from the sign of Christ’s feed-box cradle? Could it be that salvation is not born within the palace, nor holiness found in the White House, nor healing power inside the Pentagon. The newborn King brings a rival kingdom.
What do we make of this sign: the creator born in the barn? What do we learn as we see Jesus laying amid hay bale insulation, cattle lowing, barn cats purring, nightingales and owls singing? Ponder the signs- no room in the inn? Evil kings- plotting preachers? Who is this Savior Mary has pushed into the world? Who is this newborn king? Did the established church miss God’s Nativity Star? What might we learn as only the Magi from lands far away pay homage to the holy child? Do we see the sign that shepherds, not princes come singing?
What song does the newborn king sing? Jesus sings of feeding the hungry- clothing the naked- turning the other cheek- providing free healthcare- reforming prisons- welcoming all people- easily pronouncing forgiveness- including those labeled unclean- breaking graceless rules- teaching forgiveness- loving neighbors- caring for the poor- hearing the cry of the hurting- welcoming the stranger- and preaching loving-kindness for enemies. That is not the Empires anthem.
Ponder, the holy mystery of the Creator come as child latching onto life though Mary’s milk? How can it be that God Almighty comes so vulnerably among us? Laying in that feedbox is a very different savior and lord. Oh come let us adore the holy child- who calls us to establish a kingdom rooted in welcome, fairness and justice. Come let us join the eternal song that resists evil, injustice and oppression and strives for justice, freedom, human dignity, equality, compassion, faith, hope and love. Oh let us see the signs, and carry the signs of God’s deep love out into the world. Tonight, as God’s Love bends low to kiss the earth let us work to build a kingdom of love on earth as in heaven. Amen