Čt 12 prosince 2013
(Christmas Sermon for the Prague Christian Fellowship on December 15, 2013)
I haven’t grew up in the Christian home. None of my parents regularly attended church, and they have never taught me about Bible or Christianity outside of the general knowledge. However, neither they were anti-Christian: there was always Bible in our library, and, getting to the Christmas message, my Mom always read us before the Christmas Dinner this passage from the Luke’s gospel, and always in this a bit archaic, Kralická version. Therefore, this text is now inseparably linked to the Christmas for me: (translation to be from KJV)
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judæa, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
—Luke 2:1-19 KJV
Obviously this is the text which is so rich with meaning, with tradition of its interpretation that I don’t have a chance to interpret it fully. I don’t mean to. Let me here just share couple of thoughts on this.
First one is obviously, that this “the greatest story ever told” is the greatest paradox ever told. Jesus is the Lord from His birth, there are multitude of heavenly host praising his birth, he has great calling on his life (and if he was aware of it at the moment, then he would have great dreams and passions for his life). And yet, He doesn’t look great at all. We have here young couple too soon after their wedding having their first born son. They are very poor and now living in the manger. They are probably a little bit cold (although in fact it mostly likely is not December then) and as every young couple of freshly born first child they now expect with at least a little bit of fear all troubles of lack of sleep, nursing troubles, possible sickness, desperation over the teaching him all what’s necessary for good life, and other difficulties of raising up a human child. Let me note also, that those diapers mentioned in the text were not for decoration and pretty soon they were not to be unsullied.
We are so blinded by hearing this story many times that we don’t appreciate its pure craziness. God Almighty, who calls the stars by name, who knows everything, who knows the very number of hairs on each of our heads, this God, for love to us was willing to step down to this poverty and be completely helpless and dependent on his human parents. And this pitiful picture of human poverty is the ultimate fulfillment of His Plan of Redemption of Humanity?
This is in some manner a simple straightforward story covers obviously so much more than it says on its face. And one look behind the curtains so to say is suggested by Paul (an early Christian leader, who was a friend and leader of Luke, the author of the previously read part from the early biography of the Christ) in his letter to the community of followers of Christ in Philippa:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Christ is the King, the Liberator, the Leader — but still he came to us as a humble child. There is apparently something about the small beginnings which made sense to Jesus, and I believe it should make sense to us as well. He didn’t despise the small necessities and troubles of life, and so we should not as well. We are often drawn to the higher visions, The Calling on our life and similar high-minded a bit abstract concepts, and everyday troubles seem to just distract us from this Really Important Stuff. And yet, Jesus didn’t skip thirty years of His life which would seem rather wasted considering their impact on the Humanity. That’s the first lesson.
It seemed important to him to embrace life in all its complexities and everyday drudgery. He wanted to participate in the real life, instead of just picking from it famous and glorious parts. He embraced His helplessness, even though, because he was God, knew when he was entering a world in which the local King, Herod, was going to almost immediately try to kill him! So, giving up on the comfort and safety of our shelled lives, we need to step outside and embrace the wild life around us is the second lesson of this chapter.
The last lesson we could learn from Mary. It seems that most people around here (except perhaps for Joseph) were mostly unaware of the high drama around them and they were mostly concerned with the visible and obvious. But she “treasured up all these things” (does it mean that these experiences were valuable for her?). She couldn’t know how the story turns about. She had to be prepared to trust in her calling just based on Wild and Significant but few experiences. Visitation by Angel, Hold by Magi, meeting in the Temple with Simeon and Anna, and then thirty years just caring for child and the standing behind and trusting God He will make the dream happening. This waiting and trusting the Lord even for (what we consider) very long time is the last lesson I want to learn from this message and talk to you about.