Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Isaiah 9: 2 – 7
2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
3 You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
4 For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Titus 2: 11 – 14
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. 14He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
Luke 2: 1 – 14
The Birth of Jesus
2In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph 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. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And 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.
The Shepherds and the Angels
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13And 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 favours!’
When the Israelites entered Canaan after God had rescued them from Egypt, their leader Joshua took them to a valley that lay between Mt Ebal and Mt Gerizim. He divided the people into two groups. One he lined up on the slopes on Mt Ebal and the other stood on the slopes of Mt Gerizim.
They represented two immensely powerful forces because the group on one side recited the blessings associated with obeying the Law of Moses and the group facing them repeated the curses associated with disobeying the Law of Moses.
The average Joe may well not have been aware of the tremendous power that lay behind God’s assertion that obedience would result in blessing and disobedience in cursing. The stakes were high but many a person, it turns out, was unaware of the significance of what they were acting out and how what it depicted would affect their lives from now on.
As the assembled people streamed off the mountainsides into the valley below, they found themselves literally caught between a residual sense of the the two sides of the Law of Moses and the import of what they had just recited.
God’s expectation here was that as the two groups recited the law – the terms of God’s covenant with Israel – they were giving concrete effect to what had previously been a concept that had looked forward to a land in which they could live it out. Now they were in the Promised Land. Something new had been born and things would never be the same again. They were now required to respond to God’s word in practice. The word had become living and relevant.
In our Gospel reading today we also see represented two frightening powers:
A decree goes out from the Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. The Roman Empire pretty much ruled over all the world and a ruthlessly efficient power they were, with a reach that extended down through their on-site Governor Quirinius into the provinces of Judaea and Galilee. And this reach was iron-fisted in the form of Roman legionaries whose fortress (the Antonia) bordered the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. A brutal and visible power in Jerusalem but not so visible in a scurrying couple complying with census demands in the region of Bethlehem.
On the other side of the power equation are a host of angelic beings who frighten the bejabbers out of a group of simple shepherds watching over their flocks at night. They have no sooner met the shepherds than they are issuing them with commands. Power in operation.
It’s no co-incidence that the powers of both earth, and lined up against them, the powers of heaven, appear at this moment. The stakes are high and those whose interest it is to maintain control, are there.
Down the food chain, and caught in the middle of these two powers , a little family obediently hurries off to their ancestral home in Bethlehem to be registered in the census. Homeless and giving birth at the same time, the very picture of vulnerability.
Were they fully aware of the import of what had just happened?
If you were leading an onslaught of heaven against the strongholds of earth, who would you send into battle to lead the charge?
God chooses a vulnerable baby. God is counter-intuitive. He doesn’t think the way we do.
Who is this who brings light, joy and peace? Who is a king called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace?
Whose authority shall grow continually, and yet whom we all know will end his days ignominiously murdered at the hands of both the local Jewish and Roman authorities.
And more pertinently, how aware are you and I, the average Joes of this time, of the significance of what happened 2000 years ago? Do we realise just how high the stakes are here?
And it is precisely because the stakes are so high, and the real battle invisible to the naked eye, that the joy of Jesus’ birth is so great. It’s a big deal.
There were Israelites who stepped off the slopes of Mt Ebal and Mt Gerizim saying, “Well that was nice, but not sure what that was about. When is Joshua going to begin allocating land to us so that we can get on with life?”
What is your response to the Bethlehem story tonight?
How insightful are we as to the import of what happened there? How much insight do we have today of the valley we are in, of the opposing forces lined up against each other on either side of us? Are we possibly in the camp that says, “Well that was nice, but not sure what that was about. Let’s move on so that we can get on with life?”
St John describes the coming of Jesus as the Word made flesh (John1: 14). What is it God expects us to enflesh, to give concrete expression to? Someone has been born and things are never going to be the same again.
Jesus lived the way he did for a purpose. The final verse in our reading from Titus tonight reads 14He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
Don’t miss the significance of what is going on here!
Joshua’s response to God’s amazing gift of a new country – a land flowing with milk and honey – was to present the people with a choice:
(From Joshua 12: 15) Choose this day whom you will serve … But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
God’s amazing gift of his Son lies before us today. Joshua’s words still challenge us: Choose this day whom you will serve
God bless you this Christmas!
Christmas Eve : Lighting of the Christ Candle (based on Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)
Reader One: Hear the words of the Prophet Isaiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined…For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Reader Two: “His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”
Reader One: We stand on the brink of God’s time and light again the candles of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.
Reader Two: We light the Christ Candle to celebrate the birth of our Saviour, Jesus, the light coming into the world.
(Please pause as we light the candles, then respond.)
All: Loving God, come and shine your light in the world!