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Imagine after going home tonight, you turn on the television, and suddenly a national news “Special Report” appears on the screen, and the newscaster says, “You are hereby ordered to drop everything you are doing, get on the road now, and travel to your hometown. You are hereby ordered to participate in a nationwide census.” Whether you have other things to do or not, whether you are busy with your work, or have other family obligations you must, I mean must, travel and comply. That sounds a little ridiculous does it not, but that is exactly what the Emperor Augustus ordered the world to do, I mean the entire world, over 2000 years ago. Rome literally ruled the world, and Emperor Augustus wielded a power that allowed him take account of every person, animal, land, and treasure that he alone controlled.
Now in the midst of this declaration of universal power something amazing, something of even greater proportion was happening, and it came about without the trappings of earth shattering, universe-altering, worldwide events like the one Augustus ordered; it happened through the miraculous story of a carpenter, his betrothed bride, and the unexpected child. The carpenter Joseph was a handyman of sorts in those days, and he was engaged to Mary, a rustic girl from a local village. Their relationship and the circumstances of their engagement was something that could rival any tabloid cover story and yet, the young mother to be was carrying in her womb, a baby, which the world did not expect.
In the backdrop of the Emporer’s census, the real ruler of the Universe, God, the promised one, Emmanuel was entering history in a very unique, unexpected, unimaginable way. God in Christ came to us not as a wealthy power-wielding ruler, but as a poor helpless baby. His parents, Mary and Joseph responded to Ceasar’s decree and traveled from Nazareth (where they both lived) to Bethlehem (the old home place of Joseph); a distance of about 80 miles. For us, we can make that journey today in less than an hour and a half. For them, with Mary riding on a donkey and pregnant, this journey took several days, and had its toll on them both.
Obeying the law of the land they arrived in Bethlehem, registered for the census, and it was there that Mary gave birth to her child. There was no local walk-in clinic, no emergency room, and definitely no local Marriott or even a Motel 6. Everyone was on the road at the same time for the census, so Mary and Joseph had to stay in a place where the animals sought refuge from the cold. Ironically, the babe’s resting place was not a fancy, gold clad Tempurpedic mattress equipped crib, but a nasty, unkept animal’s feed trough, which we call a manger.
It is difficult to get our minds around this mystery we celebrate tonight. Imagine the source, the intelligence, the spark, the essence of the Universe (The Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all) really walked among us, as one of us. What is even more difficult to fathom is that he began that journey as an infant, born in a barn, and humbly laid his head in a trough from which animals ate. In our world of scientific, technological, expanding human wisdom, we struggle to get our minds around this story, but honestly, it is this beginning of the narrative of grace on which, we Christians hang our eternal hope. The Christian faith is a mystery we trust in that somehow, God love is so powerful and yet so humble, that God’s action of restoration toward us, actually restores us, redeems us, and reconciles us. In Christ, we are healed, made whole, and returned to the source of love itself.
Scripture says, “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.” The irony in this story of earthly ruler Caesar and the humble baby is palpable. God humbled Godself as one of us, identified as one of us, the lowliest of us and now, we are restored to right relationship through God’s humble act. The great chasm through which, we have chosen our own way is no more. The babe in the manger was God in flesh, not wielding power like Augustus who declared, “drop what you’re doing so I can control you.” The real ruler of creation, God, entered time and space humbly, and declared peace as a powerless and dependent child.
The hope of the world is not found in the powerful ruler, the governing authority, nor human greatness in any of its forms. The hope of the world is found in the promise that the God who created all, whether in seven days or 13.8 billion years, loves us, all of us so much that He somehow mysteriously, became one with us, and despite our desire for power, control, and dominance, God continues to bring hope of peace into the world today.
The promise of peace has begun already with that babe in the manger, but we are not quite fully at that place where peace, justice, and human dignity is the way of life. The news headlines give us clear evidence that God’s Kingdom is not yet fulfilled. Broken relationships, war, atrocities, and injustices still abound in the world, because maybe in some way, we still want to be the little Caesars of our own lives. However, for those who put their trust in Jesus Christ, those who embrace the power of love found in the babe in the manger, we can trust that the Kingdom of God has started to emerge, and continues to break through. Through power of God’s love in our transformed lives, filled with hope and promise, we can be a part of bringing about peace on earth.
Even when injustice and evil still abounds, there are clear indications of God’s peace present in the world. Through our outpouring of responsive love, and the never-failing giving of self following Jesus Christ’s lead, we can begin to restore peace to those who suffer, those who are distraught, those who struggle, and those who like the babe in the manger live in poverty, destitution, and indignity. The Kingdom is already here, but not quite yet. We still live in a world fraught with power struggles and despair, but on this night, the Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we have hope, and we can trust in the God whose love declares, “Be not afraid, for see– 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.”