A Sermon for Christmas Eve, 24th December 2021
” . . . he was descended from the house and family of David” Luke 2:3
Gathering on Christmas Eve, what does the story read this night say to people?
Is it a tale of events a long time ago in land far away, or are the words as fresh now as when they were written? If one watches the television news and then listens to the words of the Gospel reading, is there a connection between the two?
In Saint Luke Chapter 2 Verse 1, it says, “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.” Luke is saying that this story is taking place on a world stage, that what happens is an event that affects all the world.
When the story is read to people now, is there the confidence that Luke showed? Is there a belief that what is shown on the television news and the words of the Gospel reading are connected? The Emperor Augustus ruled the greatest empire the world had known, his decrees governed every part of that empire, but Luke includes even the emperor as part of the story. Jesus was born onto a world stage and faith as Christians should not only shape how people see the world in which they live, but should also should help shape how that world actually lives.
Verse 2 says, “This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.”
The story has stepped down a level, from the global to what might be considered as the “national”, although few Judeans would have liked the idea that their region had been added to the province of Syria for administrative purposes.
Would Saint Luke have been aware of the tensions? Would his reference to the governorship of Quirinius have stirred up feeling among those who heard his words? Would there have been a reminder of old resentments? The Jewish people had hated the pagan Quirinius and they resented censuses which were against their Law. Saint Luke places the birth of Jesus against the political tensions of the time. Do Christians now see politics in the present time in the light of faith in Jesus? When one thinks about politicians, when one goes to vote, is there any though given as to how Christians should see the issues?
The global, the national, the story then steps down to the regional level.
Verses 3-4 say, “All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea.”
Galileans were instantly noticeable by their accents. It is clear from the story of the arrest of Jesus that is recognised Peter as a friend of Jesus from the way he spoke.
What tensions might there have been at the time of the census? How did the people of Judea feel about the arrival of outsiders, outsiders looking for accommodation, outsiders whose presence would have pushed up all the prices. How would Galileans have been regarded. Would they have been seen as bringing problems? Would they have been seen as troublemakers? Would they have been seen people to blame?
Were the story taking place in the present time, how would people see the arrival of strangers in the area? Would there be a welcome warmer than that received by those who arrived in Judea from Galilee?
Again, the story steps down a further level, from the regional level to the local level.
Verse 4 says they came to “the city of David called Bethlehem.”
What was it like at the local level? Great decisions may be taken at global and national levels, decisions that might cause debate and controversy, but decisions at those levels are about ideas, policies, principles, it is when one reaches the local level that one sees the impact on ordinary people.
The people of Bethlehem do not seem to have been happy about the decision to hold a census, for there is no evidence that they took measures to prepare for an influx of people. Did Mary and Joseph walk through the street being watched by hostile eyes? What did they feel about Bethlehem as they went to door after door in search of accommodation?
If Mary and Joseph came into a community now, what welcome would they receive? A young couple from the Middle East, the young woman heavily pregnant, can anyone honestly say that their welcome would be warmer than the one they received in Bethlehem?
From global level in Verse 1, the story reaches the personal level in Verse 4.
Saint Luke writes that Joseph “was descended from the house and family of David.”
What were the personal responses to Mary and Joseph? What things did people think about them? What did they say to their neighbours? Wasn’t there enough kindness in the heart of anyone to find them somewhere to rest? Wasn’t there anyone who would lend them a room where a baby might be born?
How would we respond? How do we respond to the Christmas story? How do we respond to Jesus?
Faith begins at a personal level. It is when one responds personally that it becomes possible to become Christians at other levels. Response as Christians should be at local, regional, national and global levels. When one decides that Jesus will be welcome, it is a welcome that makes demands in every aspect of human life. Response at each level means making the words from O little town of Bethlehem one’s own personal prayer:
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
May he be welcomed in hearts this Christmas.
Happy Christmas Ian.
Nollaig Shona (I learned the correct pronunciation on Wednesday).
Christmas seemed to creep up on us all. The abnormality of school life under Covid meant that there seemed almost a fear of having a sense of anticipation of the festive season.