Text: Luke 2
Grace and peace be unto you from God who is our Creator and from Jesus Christ who is our Savior and our Friend. Amen.
When my sister and I were little girls, we took part in a Christmas pageant. It’s entirely possible that we were in more than one pageant, but this is the only one I remember. My sister Maia played the angel Gabriel.
She wore a simple white, A-line costume that my mom probably made, with gold rick rack around the neckline and a circle of tinsel garland on her head.
In this particular pageant my memory is that she delivered the opening lines: “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus…” which meant she had to learn words like Emperor and Augustus and Quirinius and governor, and she did.
I think that for many of us, growing up, and as adults, our focus is not on the first two verses of Luke’s nativity. We sort of speed through it in order to get to the story. “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.”
Syria? Why does Luke even mention the governor of Syria?
Did you ever really notice it before? That Syria is part of the Christmas story?
Now, two thousand years later in 2015, after a decade of devastating fighting, the ancient cities of Syria lies in desolation, in ruin. (how many displaced?) For a decade Syrian refugees have knocked on the worlds’ doors, seeking a place in the inn. Many have been welcomed, many turned away.
Crisis at border – how long?
This year it is so relevant that Joseph and Mary were a middle-eastern, dark-skinned, black haired family, away from home and on the road because of the edict of the Roman occupying force. They were desperate for a place to stay where Mary could give birth. This year, more than ever, the innkeeper, whose inn was full, but who still found a warm place for them to stay, becomes a hero in our Christmas story.
The place where the holy family stayed probably wasn’t a barn, because they were in town, not out on a farm. Rather, it was probably the first floor of a two or three story dwelling, where the animals were kept. It wasn’t the Hilton, but it was warm, and there was straw for bedding, and a bucket for water, and milk from friendly cows.
Perhaps we find our place in the story this year as refugees, people on the road, feeling displaced or homeless, missing what was and seeking what will be.
Or perhaps we find our place in the story as innkeepers, seeking and agitating to open up the world’s first floor stables for the homeless of the world, for travelers and immigrants.
But why did Luke mention Syria? What was the significance? First, Luke was just saying, this is when, in history, the story took place. But more subtly, Luke wanted us to see the contrast.
Over here, Emperor Augustus, who ruled with soldiers and weapons, who could command, and with a snap of his fingers – over here, an occupied people, a population of poor farmers and fisher folk who could not afford such long journeys and time away from work – well, they jumped.
Over here, Quirinius, the governor of Syriah, a Roman governor because the Romans had conquered Syria, and in contrast, here, the naked, helpless infant king who would rule our hearts. Who is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Luke wants us to understand, God wants us to know that Jesus was born for the refugee. Jesus was born for the conquered people, for the least in this world. Jesus was born for people in need of peace and a place to stay.
Do you need peace and a place to stay?
When I write sermons I am always thinking of you, this flock, asking Holy Spirit to show me what the Word of the Lord is for you, and I know the circumstances under which many of you are here this evening.
I know that many of you are tired. You have demanding jobs that take so much of your mental and physical energy that when you get home, you’re fried. It meant something to you to rush and to be here tonight.
Many of you have little children, and just getting out the door is a challenge, let alone on Christmas outfits, with faces washed and hair combed or braided. How much easier to just stay home tonight. And yet you knew that not only did you need to be here, but the children needed to see Jesus tonight, and you came.
For many of you, Christmas is a mixed blessing, or maybe it’s just sad and lonely and something to get through. Some are remembering happier times. Some are missing someone. Some are worried about their health, some wish they had a place to be on Christmas day.
Some of you are enjoying the season, but also wondering how you’re going to pay the bills.
To all of you, to all of us: to us who are tired and stressed, to children thrilled by the lights and the gifts, to adults thrilled by the lights and the gifts, to those worried about bills and food and rent, to those in a really good place right now, to those whose families welcome them in, and to those whose families have sent them away,
…to those grateful for having all they need and to those who feel vulnerable and unprotected, to all, to us, everyone of us in need of peace and a place to stay, the Word of the Lord to you this night is that Jesus is born for you.
The great good news of this Holy Night is that Jesus is born, and in his birth, in his coming, in the power of God’s incarnation into this world of beauty and pain, everything is changed. We are not who we were before Jesus came. Now we are a people of peace. Now we are not alone. Now we have hope.
Jesus is born for that side, for the side of Augustus and Quirinius, for the ones with the guns, to whom Isaiah proclaims, “For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders.” Through his authority, Isaiah says, there shall be everlasting peace.
And Jesus was born for that side, for the people on the road, the shepherds in the fields, for the average people doing their average thing, who want a job, and hot meal and a kiss goodnight and warm bed at the end of the day.
For you too, Jesus was born. To you the angels proclaim, “"Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger."
See him in your mind’s eye. See him with a child’s imagination and ability to believe the impossible. See him with an adult’s hard-won faith in spite of everything, or maybe faith because of everything. There he is. God’s child. God come to be with us. In a manger, heralded by angels, testified to by shepherds, warmed by the breath of sleeping cows and restless sheep.
He has come to you, whether you are an innkeeper or you are seeking a room. Let everything else fall away. “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Let the presence of God fill you with a joy and a bright small hope that is wider and deeper than all of this world’s troubles or joys because it doesn’t come from here, it comes from the divine.
For this moment, be in the moment. Christ has come to you. Behold and welcome the child who is born to set you free.
Now with the angels and shepherds let us too praise God, singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace.” Amen.