That Low Estate
December 24, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Luke 2:1-14
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Our presiding bishop wrote to all the clergy this week to wish us a merry Christmas and to remind us of a few things. As clergy and faithful Christians we have a tendency to become tremendously negative about the secularization of Christmas, and of course this tendency highly tempting, yet he rightly observes that we all adopt some of the secular leanings of a modern Christmas. I remember a few years ago when Christmas fell on Sunday and several, non-Anglican, churches flat out canceled services that day. This choice was greeted with bemusement by several of us.
But as high-minded as we might get, we delight in buying our loved ones gifts to make them smile, cook elaborate dinners to break bread with those dearest to us and, gather around the Christmas tree for great merriment. But, to be honest, these things are good. It is good to shower our families with affection and to welcome loved ones into our homes. But one would hope that we keep in mind the ultimate reason for our Christmas gatherings.
But tonight we assemble together in the midst of this busy-ness. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the encroaching secularism and we pause for just a moment and sing praises to our incarnate Lord, take a moment to rejoice that the second person of the Trinity has become lowly and dwelt among us, and rejoice that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shown.”
We pause as a reminder of what this time is really about. Of course it is good and worthwhile to spend time with our family, to laugh and dine together, to be merry and bring each other good cheer, but we must bear in mind that the light of the world has broken in, the light of the world has become man and dwelt among us, the light of the world has come, to live and to die for the life of mankind.
The merriment and cheer of this season pales in comparison to the glory of Christ coming into the world, glory of that baby laid in the feeding troth in a Judean barn two-thousand years ago.
Of course we have a tendency to over romanticize the birth of Christ, because it is such an amazing thing. Rather – the birth is one of the earliest things in the life of Christ that hints to us that He is fully human just as he is fully God. His birth, was like so many before, and so many after. It was a fully human birth.
Yet, the amazement of the incarnation should cause us pause, should drive us to glorify God, to sing praises with the Angels.
JI Packer captures the amazement of this in his book Knowing God when he wrote: “the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needed to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child… The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets.”
What a staggering thought when you give it time to set in. Like you and I, the second person of the Trinity spent time has a helpless baby, completely given to the will of his earthly parents, completely dependent upon them to care for him.
Likewise, J.F. Wade captures this wonder in another beautifully poetic way in the hymn O Come, All Ye Faithful when he wrote: “child, for us sinners poor and in the manger, we would embrace thee, with love and awe: who would not love thee, loving us so dearly?” The great humility and compassion of God, to become completely helpless and lowly to cast out the darkness of our sin.
And likewise, a modern song writer Andrew Peterson, captures this when he wrote: “sing out with joy/ for the brave little boy/ Who was God, but He made Himself nothing/ He gave up His pride and He came here to die/ Like a man.”
Christ’s mission was clear – clear from the very beginning that he came to save his people those who had wandered so far. He came to be a shepherd to the lost and the weary. He came to redeem the people who had scorned the God of Israel, the one true God, the living and faithful Lord.
What good news – what great news this is!
And as we read St. Luke’s gospel we pick up on something else. We read of a powerful earthly king, who hopes to shore-up his majestic position by ordering some sort of census, most likely so he could levy more taxes upon his kingdom, and in doing this he becomes a pawn and makes it so the one true King, the king of kings, the Lord of Lords can be born in his rightful place, be born in the ancestral city of David. It was the census that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem while Mary was heavy with Child, and yet it is before Christ that even Caesar Augustus will bow one day.
We are reminded from the get go, that ultimately, Christ is the king and the true sovereign of the universe, Christ the innocent baby born and wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger who will over throw every worldly government, and to whom every knee shall bow.
What is most interesting here, as we rush around amidst our modern Christmases is to think about the first Christmas. We can get a hint that perhaps it was utterly chaotic in Bethlehem as well. Our text tells us that there was no room in the inn, but most agree that this is an odd translation, and more dependent upon tradition than the reality of what the text says. It would seem that the census had brought many relatives of Joseph to town, and there was no room in the guest room, there was no room in the family house for Joseph and his fiancé.
Or perhaps there was shame – shame of Joseph who was telling this farfetched story of his wife-to-be’s so called virgin conception, and his family imagined this was some tall tale, and so they gave him some room in stall for animals so he could register and go along his way.
Yet, it was a virgin birth, yet it was a miracle, yet amidst the busy-ness, amidst everyone’s rushing around to register, to go about their business
– The Light came into the world, and yet the world did not recognize,
did not care.
A mere six miles south of Jerusalem a little baby was born, a mere six miles south of where he would die, he lay, helpless and vulnerable, as the world swirled around him.
No, friends, this was no mere birth from some promiscuous teenagers telling a crazy story, this was the miraculous birth of a man who would change the world, who would set the captive people friend, who would set a sinner like me free from my inner darkness. Christ Jesus – came into the world to save sinners, to set the captives free.
And here, I want to pause to read a part of our Bishop’s letter, he writes:
I want to make special mention at this time, of the many who cannot appreciate the joy and happiness of the Season due to the loss of a loved one, illness or loneliness. One of the wonderful gifts we have as a Church is to love those whom we know have sadness at Christmas time. Jesus said, “truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Those who are struggling with grief and loneliness are among us in our parishes and are often overlooked. I encourage you to reach out to them.
As we contemplate this amazing gospel reading tonight – make note of who plays prominent roles in the narrative: The government who was used like a pawn, who was embarrassed as Christ, the Lord, the king of kings was born totally unnoticed to them. A pregnant teenager and her soon to be spouse, who were most likely shunned by his family, and the shepherds, the outcasts of society. We hear nothing of a grumpy innkeeper, or even any other relatives of Mary and Joseph, we hear nothing of the head of the town, no one, outside of these handful of people seem to know what is going on, while the wool is pulled over the powerful people’s eyes. And the world remained busy and oblivious.
No, Christmas is not for the prominent and the self-important, Christmas is not for the self-absorbed, and the proud – Christmas is for the poor and downtrodden. Christmas is for those who are heartbroken, who have no one but God himself, Christmas is for those who see their sin for what it is, who know the weight of it, and the reality that they are the debtor who owes ten life times worth of salary, and will never be able to pay their lender back. Christmas is for sinners like you and I who come humbly before their king and God and cry out with broken hearts to experience the incredible love that would send the Almighty down to be an innocent babe, laid in a smelly manger, as animals bade and Mary cried.
Let us not lose sight of what Christmas is truly about, and let us remember to be to those who are suffering the light of Christ, as he has been the light of life to us, the source and hope amidst the turmoil.
And those dear precious shepherds.
God does not announce to the priests, to the religious leaders, to the government that His Christ has been born, though this Christ would be the best prophet, the greatest high priest, and the all governments are upon his shoulder. No, God announces the birth of Christ to shepherds. It is particularly poignant because shepherds seemed to be generally despised by the Rabbis. Their work would not allow them to keep the strict laws of ceremonial cleanness that had popped up in the rabbinical traditional, and thus they were viewed as dirty and lowly.
They lived in the messy reality of dealing with animals all day, and as such they were in the lowliest of estates. The birth was announced to messy people, and the birth is good news to messy people today, God did not come to those who have their lives perfectly together, nor does he demand that we get it together before we come to Him. God incarnate came to those whose lives were imperfect, and as such they knew the glory of the Lord.
One commentator hypothesized something interesting, and there’s no real discernable proof of this that I can find, but it is entirely possible that these shepherds were the same shepherds that kept the flock for the temple sacrifice. So, the commentator notes that it is possible that the ones who kept the lambs for the daily sacrifice were the first witnesses to the final lamb, the perfect lamb that would be slain for all mankind.
I am not so convinced that this has to be the case, but it is significant that in the shadow of the holy city, a mere six miles south of Jerusalem, the ones who were scorned for their work, and yet cared for lambs day in and day out were the first to see the Lamb that would be sacrificed for mankind.
And with the announcement to the shepherds all of heaven exploded forth. So amazing was the birth that even the angels could not contain their excitement. The beautiful calamitous bursting came – and the angels cried out together – “Glory – To – God – In – The - Highest!” For the child king is born! The child king who would bring peace to the earth, peace to all sinners, peace to those whom put their trust in him! In born in the city of David tonight. Alleluia and amen.
Tonight, we read of the lowly being brought good news because God in the highest humbled himself, became man, was born of a virgin, was a vulnerable baby, laid in that lowest and meanest of estates, all so he could set us captives free, all so we could be given peace in the midst of a crazy world, all so we could be redeemed to God and know Him, and not just known him, but be adopted as sons and daughters! What good news, and glad tidings those angels brought that first Christmas night!
In the midst of the busy-ness of the season, let us take a deep breath and remember that precious child, who grew to be the captive king on the cross, and give thanks for his great humility and great mercy he brings us.
In the busy-ness of this season, let us take a deep breath and give thanks for that mercy.
In the busy-ness of this season, let us show those who are struggling and hurting the care we have for them.
In the busy-ness of this season and at all times, let us be the hands of are incarnate Lord, and love those well around you, that we might all sing Glory to God in the highest for the incredibly mercy He set forth on that first Christmas day.
In the name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.