Tuesday, January 3, 2012

1st Sunday after Christmas - January 1, 2012

The Christmas story is so wonderfully familiar to us.  Every year we hear the story of the humble Christ Child being born in the stable.  Every year we hear of the shepherds in the fields with their animals.  Every year we hear of the angels filling the sky with their glory.  We hear these things in the scriptures that are read to us.  We hear them in the children’s program on Christmas Eve.  We hear them in the hymns that we sing.  The Christmas story is so wonderfully familiar to us.

So familiar, in fact, that it might be easy to miss something strange, something just a bit...... peculiar.  Side by side, at the birth of Jesus, are two things that just don’t make any sense together: Jesus as glorious king who is destined to be a man of power, and Jesus as lowly peasant.  This just isn’t normal.  How can he be both?

First, let us look at the signs that point to the two different descriptions of Jesus.  The angels, the messengers of God, deliver to the shepherds what they call “good news.”  “Good News” in the Old Testament had a particular kind of meaning.  Messengers would run from the field of battle to report “good news” to the king, news of victory.  Or, alternatively, messengers could be sent throughout the land, telling everyone of a great victory.  A couple of examples: When old King Saul was killed in battle, messengers came to David preaching the ‘good news’ that the man who was trying to kill him was dead and that the throne was empty for him to take.  Later on, when there was a rebellion in the kingdom, messengers came to David preaching the ‘good news’ that the rebel leader was dead.  Good news meant victory.  Good news had everything to do with power. 

When we hear the angels tell the shepherds about “good news” this is where our minds should go.  Good news means that there has been some great victory. This assumption is emphasized by the messengers themselves.  Aside from God himself, what messenger could be more glorious than a crowd of angels?  So Jesus being announced by angels certainly speaks to his power and glory. 

Now, in the normal run of things, babies being born would not be the subject of this kind of attention.  The birth of babies was wonderful, of course, a matter for a family’s personal joy, but it had nothing to do with power and victory.  So while a birth would be a great thing, it wouldn’t be “good news” in the way the term was understood at the time.

Unless, the baby was a royal baby.  The baby of a king, particularly the first born son who would himself become king, this baby would merit messengers proclaiming good news.  And so it is in this context that we must understand the circumstances of Jesus’ birth.  The angels are proclaiming “good news” because a royal baby has been born. 

Upon hearing this good news from the angels, the shepherds would no doubt have understood the royal nature of the child as the matter of primary importance.  For surely, if the baby is the messiah as the angels declared, that means that he is a descendant of David, for everyone knew that the messiah would be a descendant of David.  The baby being born in Bethlehem, the city of David, would have made all the sense in the world.  So everything fits together.  This baby Jesus is a descendant of David; he is a royal baby; he will become king.  This makes sense.  This is “good news.”

This leads us to the other side of things.  Lowly, peasant shepherds are given this news.  These are people whose closest relationships are with sheep.  They are told that they will find a baby in a feeding trough.  No doubt there will be some animals around with their saliva and their smell.  He’ll be wrapped in some spare bits of cloth.  This isn’t the romantic scene that we imagine.  Instead it points to poverty and want and squalor.

That is the strangeness of this story.  Side by side God places two things that don’t fit together.  We can imagine the royal baby; Jesus is King!  We can imagine the peasant baby; God came for the least and the lowliest!  But it just doesn’t make much sense that he is both at the same time.  We’ve gotten used to the two things being together, but we shouldn’t lose track of the fact that it doesn’t make any sense according to reason.

And yet that is what God does.  God works in ways that defy our expectations.  He is not subject to our reason or logic.

Is Jesus royalty or is he the lowest of the low?  He is both.
Is Jesus a man or is he God?  He is both.
Is Jesus an historical figure who won our salvation on the cross or is he the one who is actively giving us life today today?  He is both.
Jesus defies classification.  He will not be pigeonholed. 

Likewise, he gives to us this same nature when we are baptized in his name. 
In this baptism, are we killed or are we raised to new life?  Both.
Are we sinful ne’er do wells who can’t do anything right?  Or are we beloved saints who can’t do anything wrong?  We are both.
Are we absolutely free or are we servants who do good works in his name?  Both.
Are we to be peacemakers or are we to stand up zealously for the truth?  Both.
Can you be suffering from disease or sickness and at the same time be the subject of God's perfect favor?  Yes
Can there be brokenness in your family and  at the same time the beautiful blessings of God?  Yes

The life of a Christian is very much like the person of Christ.  God combines things that simply cannot exist together by logic or reason.  This can make us very uncomfortable as we struggle to make sense of it.  But making sense of it is never the point.  On that Christmas night, the shepherds were right in the middle of something that didn’t make sense.  And yet they heard the words of the angel, “I am bringing you good news of great joy.  To you is born this day a savior.”  Salvation comes to us and it is useless to try to pin it down or figure it out.  You have been saved by Jesus, this baby peasant king.  Against all logic and reason, you have been saved.  Alleluia.  Amen. 

No comments:

Post a Comment