Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]
1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and 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 heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” [15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.]
Grace, peace, and mercy are yours on this Christmas eve night. Amen.
Who can bring the mighty down from their thrones?
Because a child has this uncanny ability… to mess up just about anything.
Your social life.
Your savings account.
Your new blouse or suit.
Your family dynamic.
And even your mighty empire.
Who can bring the mighty down from their thrones? A child.
Some of you will remember this movie plot from the 80s. Peter was a successful architect, who lived in a high-rise Manhattan apartment with his cartoonist friend, Michael, and his actor friend, Jack. They were all bachelors living the high life. Expensive parties, fancy dinners, and everything that goes with it. Until one day, Peter opens the front door to find an unexpected package at his feet. And it was moving. And drooling.
Outside his front door…a child. In a wicker basket and with a note.
Dear Jack, here is your daughter. I have to go away for six months. Take good care of her. Good luck. Love, Sylvia.
Peter yells for his roommate, Michael, and the two proceed to panic.
What are we going to do with it?
I don’t know, give it back to her mother!
But her mother is gone for 6 months!
Meanwhile, the child begins to cry and do other things that babies do. And in that moment, these three men, Peter and Michael and Jack all become unexpected fathers to this unexpected child and their lives as they knew them were ruined.
Who can bring the might down from their thrones?
Because a child has this uncanny ability to mess up just about anything. But then at the same time, a child has this uncanny ability to teach us to love, in their need to be loved.
You see, it wasn’t long before the love that child required from these men grew into love given by them freely. They fell in love with her. These three bachelors were transformed by this little girl, as each of them slowly embraced this newly appointed parenthood.
Who can bring the mighty down from their thrones? A child. And who can teach us to love? A child.
Luke begins his Christmas story with the mighty. Emperor Augustus and Governor Quirinius. Apparently Luke didn’t get the memo that we don’t talk about politics at Christmas. Instead, he just walks right in the door, drops the gifts and says, “So, Trump, huh?”
Luke puts it this way, “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.”
But this isn’t small talk for Luke. He isn’t bringing this just up just to figure out how Dad voted. No, he’s dragging the hand-painted backdrop drapery across the stage of this Christmas story, setting the scene for the show that’s about to begin. And it should frighten us.
Emperor Augustus and his Roman Regime rule everything. At the snap of a finger, in a single decree, he can control all the movement in the land. Forcing people out their homes, like displaced refugees, in order to register them. In order to tax them more efficiently. In order to take more from them than had already been taken.
Mary and Joseph were there. Just part of the crowd who marched to these orders.
If you look up Pieter Bruegel’s Christmas painting called The Numbering at Bethlehem, you have to search hard to find Mary and Joseph among the villagers crowding into town. “Mary and Joseph have disappeared into the anonymity of the powerless….They are faceless nobodies under the boot of an uncaring empire. ”
But then a movement started in Mary that could not be controlled by the emperor and could not be stopped by the emperor. The movement of birth.
Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger.
Who can bring the mighty down from their thrones?
And Emperor Augustus did not expect this child on the doorstep of his empire.
And now watch what begins to happen…
Notice that the birth of this child, Jesus, triggers a new decree, a new message going out to all the people. Notice that immediately after Jesus’ birth, an angel announces out in the field, “Behold—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
When you’re the emperor and a child is triggering decrees that you did not command, you get threatened. It means your control and your grip is in jeopardy. It means this child is messing up your life.
And notice this heavenly decree is in complete contrast to the emperor’s. First, this decree from heaven is spoken to the lowly shepherds. You see, there was this belief back then that God only spoke to Kings and Emperors. But here God speaks to the shepherds, the lowest of the low, and not the Emperor. As theologian Alan Walker has said, “Jesus is God’s answer to a bad reputation.” God speaks of Jesus’ birth…to the shepherds.
Next, remember, in the emperor’s decree, the emperor commanded the people to move. To leave their homes like his little puppets all in order to take something from you. In this heavenly decree, God is the one who moves. Moves down. Moves out of God’s heavenly home. God moves in to human skin. God becomes the refugee. Why? Not because God wants to take something from you but because God wants to give something to you. The gift of God’s self. In the form of a child. It’s almost as if God says, “Well if the Emperor will force you to leave your home, then I will leave mine too. So that I can be with you.”
And it is that confronting and comforting decree that gets taken out into the people by the shepherds. Not by command. But their own free will.
Who can bring down the mighty from their thrones?
Because a child can mess up just about anything.
But just in case we think the only life Jesus came to mess up was the Emperors, think again.
Did you notice that this child, this incarnation of God, is born to you. This child comes as a gift of good news just outside your doorstep. “To you is born this day…” the angel says to the shepherd – the commoner – the regular one. To you.
It dawned on me that we all walk away from Christmas as new parents. To us a child has been born. I spend so much time talking about you as children of God, tonight I get to call you parents of God.
And like all children, this Christ child will mess up your lives too. This child asked Joseph to be loving instead of righteous. This child asked Mary to be brave instead of fearful. This child asked the shepherds to be preachers of good news and not just hearers of it.
To you a child is born. I wonder what this child is asking of you.
If God is your child then God needs your love in order to grow in the world. Not in a pietistic, overly spiritual, “Just love God!”, sort of way. No, God needs you to love and care for God’s flesh. And God’s flesh is human flesh. What you do unto others you do unto me, Jesus said.
So this Christ child will mess up your life too by asking you to come down from your mighty throne in order to love him and in loving him, loving all people. But for such a mess, it is also the greatest gift. Because this child teaches us to love.
Most of us had our lives messed up by one specific child this year.
That Syrian child, Omran, photographed in the back of an ambulance, silent, stunned, bleeding and covered in ash from an airstrike in Syria. That child who, overnight, became the face of the fighting in Aleppo. That child who inspired a 6-year-old boy from New York to write a letter to President Obama asking if Omran, this refugee, can come and live with him.
This photograph tears us up inside and haunts us. Because deep down, I believe that we know that in the eyes of God, we are all parents to that child. And I believe that child is trying to teach us to love.
Now, like most of my parenting moments, I’m not sure what to do. But I know the first step is at least recognizing that that is our child in the back of that photograph.
In one of the most stunning pieces of art I’ve ever seen, artist Judith Mehr painted a picture of Omran in the back of that ambulance and surrounding him are three heavenly angels. It is called, “Omran, Angels are here!” You can see on the door of my office if you’d like. For as haunting as it is, it is equally beautiful and full of love, and it has become the picture of Christmas for me this year.
Who can bring the mighty down from their thrones? A child.
And who can teach us to love? A child.
My friends, that’s why Jesus came – to mess up our life and to teach us to love. All triggered by coming as a child who is born to you who needs your love in order to grow in the world.
Soon, just like those shepherds, we all will be on the move too. Out these doors and back into the world God loves so much.
Know that you leave here as a child of God – loved beyond all measure. But know that you leave here not with the decree from the Emperor. You leave with a decree from the angels – to you a child has been born.
You leave here as parents of God – entrusted to love. Beyond all measure.
May it be so. Amen.
 Tom Long, Christian Century, https://www.christiancentury.org/article/2014-11/nativity-december-24-and-25-2014