Sermon for Christmas Eve
December 24, 2013
This last Thanksgiving Day, our daughter was born. This is our first child, and I’ll gladly admit that I have no idea as to what I’m doing. But what I tell you is this: the first time I picked her up my world changed as I held that precious, squirming, little nugget of love up to my cheek. Of course, she promptly pooped on me, but that’s besides the point.
From what I’ve heard from other parents, this world-change is a common experience. And let’s not be too Polly Anna – worlds are changed for good and for ill. And even if you’re not a parent, this means that when you were born, you changed your parents’ lives. They held you in their arms, and you were probably kicking, and squirming. But a world was changed.
And that’s how it must have been those two thousand years ago in that manger. Mary and Joseph had their world changed. Maggie and I had the luxury of clean sheets, and a doctor, and an epidural. Mary had none of those things, yet her world was changed just the same. And I can envision Joseph holding that child, Jesus, up to his cheek for the first time. And I can hear his heart breaking as he saw his world changing before his very eyes. Mary and Joseph had their world changed at the birth of Jesus.
But something different, something more happened at that birth. The world changed for Mary and Joseph, yes; but more than that, the whole world changed. Because of that birth, you changed. I changed. Your parents changed. Everybody you know and everything you see has changed because of the birth of the Lord Jesus. The birth of our daughter, and the birth of the hundreds and thousands of babies every day, is important. But Jesus is no ordinary baby. Jesus is not a child. Jesus is a king.
See, Jesus does not stay in his manger, swaddled close to Mary’s chest. With our nativity scenes and creches, we have lost the radical nature of Christmas. We keep Jesus as a baby because he cannot challenge us from his crib, because babies don’t threaten us. Yet Jesus grows into what he was born to be; a king. The king of this world. And this king, Jesus, offers a direct challenge to the world as it is.
Because this world is full of impostors who claim to be kings. For instance, Emperor Augustus, the same emperor mentioned in this memorable story, was proclaimed as “Son of God.” When Augustus would win victory in a war or construct a new temple, he would send out announcements of his accomplishments to all the world. These announcements were called “gospels.” And what was the emperor’s title in Greek? Soter. Savior.
Jesus comes into this world to change the world, and to challenge the false rulers of every age. Jesus is born, and proclaimed as a King. As a Savior. And he brings the “gospel” to the people. Do not be mistaken: Jesus posed a direct threat to the Emperor of his day. And today, Jesus is still challenging the established order of this world. Because Jesus does not stay as a baby, Jesus is, and always will be a king.
As much fun as it is, Christmas is not about drinking eggnog and going to tacky sweater parties. Christmas is not about cute nativity scenes or “being with family.” Christmas is the day that we proclaim that there is another king of this world. This is the night that we celebrate a righteous, gracious, and loving king. A king who is so righteous, so gracious, and so loving that he poses a direct threat to the powers of this earth. Therefore, any system of injustice or oppression should tremble on Christmas Day. Every ruler, governor, king, or PTA president that accumulates powers for themselves ought to hide, because the true authority of this world has arrived. Millionaire duck-hunting reality show stars and wealthy television producers alike should quake at the thought – that the true king of this world was born in a barn to homeless parents. And even though he comes to us as a helpless baby, and crucified as a lonely man, Jesus is crowned as king of kings, and no earthly power will stand in his way.
Jesus is the king of this world, and it is high-time that we start behaving like his loyal subjects. Because even though Jesus was born and the world changed, the work is not yet accomplished. We, as the Church, are here to continue changing the world. Our king fed the poor, and so will we. Our king hung out with bums and prostitutes, and so will we. Our king never used violence or coercion, and neither will we. Our king does not look like the rulers of this world who fatten themselves by neglecting the poor, or who shun the vulnerable, or who rely on warfare and violence. Our king, who is born on this very night, is a different king altogether.
Sure, Christmas is about the birth of a little baby. A little baby who changed his mother and father. But it’s more than that. Christmas is nothing less than the inauguration of a radically new kingdom. And not just a kingdom that we go to when we die, but a kingdom here and now. A king who was born, in the flesh, into this world, so that his kingdom might be on this world; on earth, as it is in heaven.
Do not be mistaken. The whole world has changed. And we are here this evening to remember that solemn, and breath-taking event. We are here this evening to rededicate ourselves to this king. We are here this evening, with candles, and carols, and incense, and chanting, so that we may leave this place, and change the world. Beware to the rulers and authorities of this earth – the King is born.