The Mega Joy of Christmas – a sermon

You can listen to the audio on the Christ Church website, or read it here.

Merry Christmas!


​        I’m not sure there is anything that Saint Luke can’t do. He might be history’s first renaissance man. He was a physician, a theologian, an evangelist, and at times, a historian. Above all else, however, Luke was a storyteller: one of the best storytellers the world has ever known, and his skill is on full display in tonight’s Gospel lesson, the greatest story ever told.

Luke begins the Christmas story the way so many great stories begin, with political intrigue.  The powers-that-be in Rome had decided that it was once again time to raise taxes beyond their already crippling rate, and so they called for a census. Now, the Romans were as ruthless as they were smart. They knew that the best way to show their might it to treat people like they were nothing, and so, they put the onus of the census on their subjects, moving them around like pawns at their whim.  Every man was required to close his business, pack up his family, and travel to his ancestral hometown.  For Joseph, this meant he and his nine-months-pregnant wife, Mary, had to embark on an 80-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  Under the best circumstances, this would have been a four-day trek.  Heaven only knows how long it would take with Mary great with child.

From political intrigue, Luke transitions to family drama.  As Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, word of Mary’s… condition… had preceded them.  Joseph’s kinfolk had done the math.  Mary is way too pregnant for how long they’ve been married.  One door after another is shut in Joseph’s face.  “Sorry, there is no room for you here.”  It was late, and Mary was beginning to feel the impending reality.  The baby is coming, and family dynamics or not, Mary needed a place to lie down so that she could have the baby in safety, and she needed to find it quickly.  Desperate, Joseph tried one last place, the inn on the edge of town.  This too was a non-starter, but out back, there was a barn.  It wasn’t much, but it would protect the young mother and her child from the elements.

Wisely, Luke skips over the details of the birth, but soon enough, we are witnesses to the child that Gabriel promised would be called the Son of the Most High who will reign over the house of Jacob forever.  Suddenly, the scene shifts, and we find ourselves well out of town with some shepherds gathered around an evening fire.  We might have quaint images of children in shepherd costumes tending their flocks by night, but Luke certainly did not.  In the first century, shepherds were universally despised; a necessary evil in a world that was still transitioning away from nomadic farming.  They were hired hands, sent off into the wilderness to tend the sheep of rich cattle owners.  They didn’t count as people, so they didn’t have to make the journey to their ancestral homes to be counted in the census.  Out for months at a time, doing who-knows-what in who-knows-where, shepherds were considered so unclean that most towns had laws forbidding them from entering the city gates.  It was a well-established belief that shepherds were dishonest cheats.  Way out there, nobody could know how many lambs were born each spring, and so, maybe they sold a few lambs each season to line their own pockets.[1]  Shepherds were considered so deceitful that they were not allowed to testify in court.

It is way out there, with the smelly, untrustworthy, not-even-qualified-to-be-called-a-person shepherds, that the Good News of Jesus’ birth is first made known.  Now, if you had been told your whole adult life that you were of no value and that God couldn’t even love you, when the darkness of the night was suddenly torn open with heavenly glory and an angel looked you square in the eyes, the proper response would certainly be one of fear.  Some might say terrified, but I prefer the King James Translation.  “They were sore afraid.”  This fear was something beyond what you might experience on the Tower of Terror ride at Hollywood Studios or the fear some might feel walking around the Nave all alone, late at night.  In the Greek, Luke, the great storyteller, writes that the shepherds “epho-batha-san phobon megan,” they “feared a mega fear.”

The angel, knowing as angels always do that a human’s initial reaction to them will be fear, quickly tries to calm the situation.  “Fear not!” the angel says, “for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”  Again, turning to the Greek, we see the beauty of Luke’s storytelling skills, the angels tells the shepherds “euanggelion umin caran megalen,” literally, “I bring you good news of mega joy!”  God steps into the depths of mega fear, appearing to a crowd of shepherds who had been convinced they were worthless liars, and shares with them the good news of mega joy that on this night, in the city of David is born a Savior who is Christ the Lord.  It is to those who were never to be trusted that God entrusted the Good News.

Like I said, Luke is a phenomenal storyteller, but his greatest gift is including each of us in the story.  The good news of mega joy is given to the shepherds, but it is intended to be shared with all people, which, in case you were unsure, definitely includes you and me.  The unbelievable witnesses will tell the unbelievable story of God’s unbelievable love for all of humanity.  There is something comforting about all that disbelief.  It makes me feel like maybe, just maybe, I might be qualified to tell the story.  It makes me sure that you too have what it takes to spread the Good News of great joy for all the people.  And so, tonight, despite whatever else we might have going on in our lives: no matter how mega the fear might be, how profound the sadness, how stressful the situation, we join with two thousand years of Christians in hearing the words of the angel, “Fear Not!”  And maybe, even just for a moment, we allow the mega joy to take hold, and join our voices to the heavenly chorus, shepherds, apostles, prophets, and martyrs in singing, “Glory to God in the highest!”  We join with two thousand years of Christians who have given thanks for the good news of mega joy that Jesus was born to give us hope and courage in the face of fear and sadness.

Luke’s ability to include us in this amazing story is what keeps Christmas relevant in a world that is increasingly suspicious of the religion that follows Jesus.  Seeking out hope in the midst of fear is something we can all understand, something we all desire. There is something universal about trying to set aside the frustrations of everyday life in order to have 24 hours of uninterrupted joy.  Christmas is the one time each year where everybody gets the chance to smile in the face of a thousand things that would cause you to frown.  To quote my favorite Christmas movie, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”  Not gifts or lights or food or family, but the good news of mega joy that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son into a world full of mega fear to save it.

Luke’s great story continues, with the shepherds running off to find the baby, and when they saw him, just as the angels had told them, they returned to the fields, with hearts full of joy, praising and glorifying God as they went.  Let’s follow in their example.  Christmas is here, my friends.  Thanks be to God!  Now, let’s get to celebrating the good news of mega joy for all people: Jesus Christ is born!  Amen.

[1] Thanks Frank Logue http://aplm2013.blogspot.ca/2013/12/preachers-study-christmas-2013.html

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