First Lesson: Luke 1:26-38
Second Lesson: Luke 1:46-56
Children’s story: Luke 2:1-20
Sunday, December 20, 2015
I have come upon these old pages from a diary which seems to be written by a young woman named Mary, and I’d like to read it to you. The penmanship is poor, and I can barely make out some of the words. It seems to me that Mary was a very simple young girl, not well educated. This is what she says.
I can hardly believe it, and I don’t want to. Today I was at home, by myself, and an angel came to me as I was home alone. It was scarey enough that an angel would come to me as I was home alone. But what he said to me was even more frightening. He said that I’m going to have a child. Which immediately seemed impossible to me, because Joseph and I are engaged, but we’re not living together or even sleeping together, and if I know Joseph, that’s not going to happen until we ARE married. But then the angel told me that my child would be the son of God, which was even more of a mystery and something I truly did not understand.
And then the angel said that my child is going to sit on the throne of our great ancestor King David in Jerusalem. And that was even more frightening, because our great King David has long been gone from his throne in Jerusalem, for thousand years, and if we have any king at all in Jerusalem it would be Herod. But he’s a Roman King. He takes all his orders from Rome. And the Romans are the reason our entire country is in the situation we are in. We had good farms. They had been in our families for several generations, up here in Nazareth – this peaceful little out of the way place. But the Romans have made us pay such high taxes on our land and on our wheat that we grow and on our grapes that we grow and on the fish that we catch in the Sea of Galilee. And in the end we couldn’t make enough to pay the taxes on our farms, and the Romans foreclosed on many of us. Which had been their plan all along, of course.
That’s happening all over the country these days – families in the country side are losing their farms, and people in the cities are having to pay too much for food. Many people are homeless and many people are begging in the streets and women are becoming prostitutes. People are very unhappy about it, and there’s talk about rebelling. Very quiet talk about rebelling. Because all of us are terrified of the Romans, and of those Roman soldiers who are everywhere in our country and who prowl around keeping an eye on all of us. Our priests, who should be protecting us, have joined forces with the Romans, against us, and we are powerless. People dream about the days when David was our King in Jerusalem – and the country was strong and rich and powerful, and most of all, at peace. And when people had enough to eat and there weren’t so many homeless people and there weren’t people begging in the streets and the women didn’t have to become prostitues. There are men here and there, who think about putting some sort of army together and bringing down the Romans. But it would be a suicide mission. Nobody in this little country is any match for those soldiers and that powerful army and we know it.
So when the angel told me that my son would sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem, my heart sank. It can’t be possible. And if it is possible, I don’t want to think about what it would mean. My son, heading up a bloody rebellion.
I haven’t told Joseph any of this. Maybe it was a dream. I hope it was a dream – the angel coming to me with all this news. But anyway, Joseph has enough on his mind right now. He’s just received word that he and all his family will have to go all the way to Bethlehem for a Roman census. Because that’s where his family came from in the first place. I know why those Romans want to do a census – so that they will know who we are and where we are, and so that they can draft our men for military service and so that they can charge us all even higher taxes. And I know they want to disrupt the economy of our country by making sure that people aren’t at home – working – for weeks at a time. But I hate it that Joseph will have to go eighty miles all the way to Bethlehem. It’ll be a trip of many days, walking, and Joseph wants me to come along. I dread it.
I’ve never been out of Galilee, and I don’t know how we’ll manage to take enough food and water along for the trip, or where we’ll sleep along the way. I don’t know a soul in Bethlehem and I don’t know where we would stay once we got there. There’s bound to be thousands of extra people in that little town, all wanting someplace to stay. I am sure that all the inns will be charging very high prices and even at that, they will be full. And I’m sure that people will be standing in long lines, all day, waiting to register themselves. It may take weeks. And maybe I’ll be very pregnant. And Joseph won’t be earning any income in all that time.
But Joseph is a good man. He’s several years older than I am. He’s a carpenter – he makes wagon wheels and sometimes even wagons and yokes for oxen, and also tables and chairs if people want them. He’s quiet. And kind. He thinks before he speaks. He doesn’t do anything rashly. I wouldn’t say that I’m in love with him - we don’t think that way. But I am glad he’s willing to marry me, and provide a home for me and now maybe for my child. If he’ll have me now.
Because that’s my other worry. What will Joseph think? How can I convince him that I’ve been faithful to him? Will he ever in all the world believe my story that an angel came to me, and that my child will be the son of God? And what will my parents think, and people in my village? Nobody is going to believe my story. I don’t want to believe my story. I have many things to think about for a very long time.
That’s the end of the entry in Mary’s diary. But a few weeks later when she was visiting her cousin Elizabeth, she sang a song. (That’s our second lesson for today.)A very different song, in a very different spirit. She sang about the power of God, and the majesty of God. She sang about how God had taken a humble girl like herself and blessed her and done great things for her. She sang about the mercy of God and the mighty deeds of God. She sang about the proud being humbled and the rulers being brought down from their throne (and maybe she was thinking of the Romans.) She sang about the humble being lifted up (and maybe she was thinking of the people in the village of Nazareth.) She sang about the hungry being filled with good things. But how could she have known that it would be her own son who would feed thousands? She sang about the rich being sent away empty. But how did she know, in advance, that story of the rich man who came to Jesus? And went away sorry. She remembered the promises that God had made to Abraham and all of his descendants and she claimed those promises for herself – that young simple peasant girl from Nazareth. She sensed, somewhere, deep in her very soul, that a new time was coming and a brand new thing was happening, in the power of God, and that wonder of all wonders, God was using her to bring it about.
But the worst was still to come. Mary and Joseph did make that long difficult trip to Bethlehem. And her child was born there – in a barn because every other place was full of people trying to register themselves. And King Herod in Jerusalem did hear about her baby. And set about to kill him. And he sent his soldiers door to door with orders to kill all the baby boys because he didn’t know where hers was. There was a great wailing all throughout that village of Bethlehem as soldiers were coming into every home and killing all those baby boys. And she and Joseph took their baby to safety 500 miles away in Egypt and they stayed there as refugees for two years until the danger passed.
But in the end, she couldn’t save him from his death, and instead she stood at the foot of his cross and watched as he hung there for the hours that it took him to die. He was humiliated and beaten and executed by the Romans and they accused him of being a king. The much beloved son of God died in humility and sacrifice for the world he came to save. But he was the very Son of God and God is far stronger than death. So he rose to life again.
And he is king, but not in Jerusalem, and not one little middle-eastern country. He sits beside his father who is the creator and lover and sustainer of all things. He sits there in the glory and majesty and mystery of heaven, wherever heaven is, and he rules the world in love and power and pity.
Mary’s son did come into her world and he came into our world. Where in this country our leaders fight with each other all the time, and can’t agree on much of anything and the citizens suffer. Where there are wars on every continent and refugees streaming from their homelands to find safety from men who want to kill them. He came to this world where more and more children and more and more adults are being slaughtered by crazy people with guns. He came into this world where people are living in droughts and dire poverty and many are starving to death. He came into our world where parents are hurting children and children are hurting parents and friends are hurting friends and there is no peace anywhere.
That little baby came creeping into the cracks crevices and dark corners of our lives and into our suffering world. He came to bring us hope and peace and comfort. And life with God – rich abundant, joyful, exuberant, life with God.
That’s Mary’s baby. That’s your Savior. That’s your gift this Christmas time. Receive that gift. Take that baby into your heart and soul and treasure him and what he brings for you. And then follow him, with every breath you breathe and every bone in your body. Follow him as long as he gives you life.