Gospel Reading: (from the King James/Authorised translation, at my request.
2 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son,*whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains* all things by his powerful word. Hebrews 1 v 1, 2
That is how the anonymous author of the letter to the Hebrews comments on the story from Luke. This reading from Hebrews, (great as it is), is somewhat theoretical and theological. (But it is important).
By contrast, the reading from Luke is homely and concrete: It is a story of a man and woman, the birth of a baby, and the power of bureaucrats and empires.
We all understand the lives of Mary and Joseph; the birth of a child; the plight of the homeless; and the oppression of government.
We all understand this, for it is the story of our own lives.
It is a story which many of us love.
We love it because it is familiar. I memorized it when I was about seven years old, that’s why I asked for it to be read from the King James translation which is how I first heard it.
We love it because it is the truth. All we need to know about the mysterious and inscrutable God is revealed to us in the child who, as Luke has told us, is “a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord”.
“God from God, Light from Light” is what we sing as we make the powerful assertion that Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary in Bethlehem is (as Bishop John Robinson put it), the human face of God.
We love it because it is entirely accessible. Not one single human being has to be a philosopher or theologian to “get it”.
It could be told like this:
Mary and Joseph are from Wauchula in Hardee County. Their ancestors were from Arcadia in DeSoto County, where some faceless bureaucrat has ordered them to report for the census, at the decree of a “Great Big Bureaucrat” in Tallahassee. The Shepherds live just outside Clewiston in Hendry County.
Of course the story says Nazareth and Bethlehem, with Cyrenius being the faceless bureaucrat, and August Caesar the “Great Big One”. But the truthful theme of the story is universal.
My point is that we could be:
a Syrian Christian family in refugee camp in Jordan,
or a poor, barely literate family from Honduras who have settled in south L.A. to protect their sons from the violence in their home country,
or a delightful young recent graduate of Wellesley College who is about to marry her fiancé (he who was graduated from Amherst College) both Summa Cum Laude;
or the good people who are here today ---- we could be any of those, and still “get it”. We can “get” the truth of the story of the incarnation of the Word of God, because in Luke it is told in such an accessible way.
I need to “get” the story again, because “Fear Not” said the Angel.
Like the Shepherds, I am sometimes tempted to be “sore afraid”. But because of these tiding of great joy and truth I will not allow myself to be seduced by the Carnival Barkers who pose as politicians, and who would have me be afraid of Mexicans, afraid of Muslims, afraid of refugees, afraid of Black young men, afraid of the poor, afraid of the homeless.
“Fear not” says the angel to me, and I pray in agreement, knowing that fear leads to despair, and despair leads to anger, and anger lead to hatred, and hatred lead to violence. I will not allow myself to be seduced by any words other than those which bring me “good tidings of a great joy, which shall be to all people”.
I need to "get" the story again because it says: “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart”.
Mary was reflective, she was not reactive.
I need to “get” this story so that my life, with Mary will be reflective and not reactive. Since my mind can easily move from despair to joy within a matter of hours, I must learn not to react to the latest dreadful sound-bites, but with Mary to reflect, and to allow my spirit to rejoice in God my Saviour.
I need to "get" the story again because it says :“All they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds”.
I need to hear the shepherds again so that my life will not be governed by cynicism, but will be energized by wonder - that sense of joyful awe as it is expressed in a prayer for those who have just been baptised; a prayer which asks that we may be given “the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works”.
With me, thank God today for this familiar, true and accessible story. With me pray to God today to be delivered from fear, reaction and cynicism, and to live with great joy, with deep reflection, and with the gift of wonder in all God’s works.
In particular at this Christmas to be in awe at the GREAT WORK OF GOD, whose only-begotten, as Hebrews says, “is the reflection of God’s glory, and who bears the exact imprint of God’s very being”, even as we see and know it in this child in a manger.