Isaiah 9:2-7 & Luke 2:1-20
We have come through the weeks of Advent – where we celebrated God’s Motivation, The Messenger, The Message and the Moment.
Finally today we are here on Christmas Day at the ‘Manifestation’ of God in the form of a human baby – Jesus the Christ.
The word manifestation has many definitions that relate directly to this day. It can mean an ‘expression’ or an ‘indication’ or a ‘declaration’. This day is indeed an expression of love, an indication of God’s future realm and a declaration of God’s presence.
The word also means something that is made public for all and now hidden from anyone and finally it means an incarnation of something (love) or someone (God made man).
Each part of the definition indicates something made known inwardly and outwardly
Our two readings today indicate that people often still miss the most magnificent of manifestations.
In Isaiah, we read, that the wonderful Counsellor, the Prince of Peace, the Mighty God would be born into this world for his people. God had manifested God’s self to the people in opening seas, providing manna from heaven, giving protection from enemies, in words from above and words through the prophets, but would they see it this time or would they still continue to walk in darkness and continue living in the land of the shadow of Death (verse 2).
When this happened as we read in Luke 2, it is the shepherds who recognise the signs, not Caesars or kings, or even inn-keepers. Many, missed the manifestation then and the entry of the King of Kings as we read throughout the gospels and they continue to miss the manifestation still today. Why?
Max Lucado wrote a short story of the events of the nativity called ‘The Arrival’. It gives us reasons for the lack of acknowledgment of what happened on that first Christmas Day.
“Mary looks into the face of her baby, her son, her Lord, His Majesty looks like anything but a king. His face is prunish and red. His cry, though healthy and strong, is still the helpless and piercing cry of a baby. And he is absolutely dependent upon Mary for his well-being. Majesty in the midst of the mundane. Holiness in the filth of sheep manure and sweat. Divinity entering the world on the floor of a stable, through the womb of a teenager and the presence of a carpenter.
She touches the face of the infant God. How long was your journey? This baby has overlooked the universe. These rags keeping him warm were the robes of eternity. His golden throne has been abandoned in favour of a dirty sheep trough and worshipping angels have been replaced with kind but bewildered shepherds.
Meanwhile, the city humans, the merchants are unaware that God has visited their planet.
The innkeeper would never have believed that he had just sent God into the cold.
And people would scoff at anyone who told them that the Messiah lay in the arms of a teenagers on the outskirts of the village.
They were all too busy to consider the possibility.
Those who missed His Majesty’s arrival that night missed it, not because of evil acts or malice; no, they missed it because they simply weren’t looking. Little has changed in two thousand years, has it?”
Yes, especially, during this season, too many of us are too busy, too distracted to be looking at the reason for the season.
We often miss it because it is too counter-cultural to think like God, and what it means to seek the kingdom of God’s rule and reign. The Roman empire that Luke’s gospel inhabits is one where a census is essential – a young mother to be and her husband forced to travel across country because of an order based in the corridors of power. It’s all about calculations and control and the creation of fear – its what all earthly power systems do to some degree. And in a world that knows human leadership only by the extent of its power and influence, by the might of its armies and its displays of wealth, the reign of God talks of a very different order based on peace, love, hope and joy. A baby sleeping in a food trough is what God’s reign might look like. Inclusive of shepherd and outcasts – that’s what God’s reign looks like. A god who speaks and demonstrates about justice, equality, acceptance and healing that’s what God’s reign looks like.
When we attend Church once a year, or out of habit, or when we see Christmas as merely about a baby or as a cute sentimental celebration that might slow us down for a while, but in reality it is impotent to bring any real or lasting change, then Christmas is no longer counter-cultural, but instead is fully embedded in the culture as it was before.
The birth of the Saviour, when we are fully invested in our own self-sufficiency, our own control and security, our own comfort and accumulation of things, trusting no one but ourselves, we will struggle to image what God’s reign could be other than what we already know.
Perhaps today we can begin to build something different and dream a little, even if this all seems a little naïve and idealistic, for
Christ is Born!
Alleluia, Alleluia, Amen.