Christmas with Luke – What’s your story? Sermon text

Sermon preached St Mary’s Headley, Christmas Day 2015

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Text: Luke 2:1-19 (Year C)

In our lectionary, this is the year of Luke- the great story teller

But if you are anything like me then you struggle a bit with the Christmas story

It’s all very ‘nice’ – Mary and Joseph, shepherds and angels, a baby lying in a manger – but it’s all a bit well childish isn’t it?  After all it’s for the kids not adults the sort of thing you grow out of…

Or is it?

Because this story seems to be endlessly compelling – drawing us back to it year after year

As such it deserves analysis, not least because there seem to be some details which are included which don’t make sense but must be there for reason

  • Why this story about the census, Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem?
  • Why are there angels and shepherds in the story?
  • Why is Jesus laid in a manger?

To help us understand a story in the bible we can look to see where we find ourselves in that story, to identify with one of the characters.  I believe that Luke is weaving together at least three different stories in this passage that tell us a lot about our own Christian experience

So let us look from the perspective of some of the protagonists …

First there is the story of Joseph and the journey to Bethlehem.

Luke uses the story of the census (a real thing by the way, happening in 6AD and very unpopular with the Jews) to bring the birth of Jesus to Bethlehem in fulfilment of various prophesies of the Messiah

And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.[1]

Because Bethlehem is the city of David and the Messiah, God’s anointed, who would come to save Israel, was to be born of Jesse’s line, from the House of David, to sit on the throne of David  As we heard in our Old Testament lesson

He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and for ever.[2]

So this is the story of Jesus, the Davidic King – the saviour, the Messiah, part of the great narrative of the history of Israel, the son of Joseph, as the angels sang

Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord[3]   

And so Joseph is important – rooted in history and prophesy and promise – our link to the history of Jewish spirituality – of the patriarchs Abraham and Isaac, of Moses and David of Isaiah and the prophets

 

But what about the perspective of the shepherds and the angels – our second story?

In fact, why shepherds at all?  There is nothing in the other Gospels about them.

First of all Luke has a particular interest in the lowly in society – the downtrodden and oppressed.  Being a shepherd in New Testament times must have been the equivalent of being a modern day security guard.  A job which involved anti-social hours, lots of time alone, not well-paid but full of responsibility. Not perhaps the lowest of the low but not too far off.

Yet it is to the shepherds that the angels come to be the first hearers of the good news – angels meaning messengers

The shepherds hear the euangellion – the good message or good news – our Gospel.

They leave what they are doing and they come and worship Jesus – and then having seen the promised sign they go and tell others

The story of the shepherds is therefore the story of the first Christians – often from the margins of society, they heard the Gospel, came to worship and found Christ – not only that but they took the story away with them and spread it to others ‘glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.’[4]

And so their actions and reactions are like our actions.

We have heard the word in our homes and places of work – have left these behind to come together – to stop in the midst of the busy story of our lives to stop and behold the wonder of God – to give thanks, and to join together as one – in songs of everlasting praise.

But there is more – another story in the very midst of the action here – of a child laid in a manger – why does Luke choose shepherds?

Shepherds are associated with kingship and in particular with David

But in Christian tradition Jesus is not only the shepherd of the sheep but also the lamb – the sacrificial lamb of Passover[5]

In John’s Gospel when we first meet Jesus he is greeted by John the Baptist saying, ”Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

And so in Luke’s Gospel we first meet Jesus in a stable as Mary lays him in a manger – the manger where animals are fed, where food is found.

The symbolism is dramatic

Jesus is already – even as an infant – the lamb of God – the sacrificial lamb –our Passover feast –the means of our atonement and our spiritual food

If you were not convinced that Luke is presenting us with a prefiguring of the Eucharist at the nativity then remember the story of the recapitulation of the Eucharist on the road to Emmaus (they knew him in the breaking of bread[6])

Then note that that the word which is used for the inn in Bethlehem (kataluma) occurs only one other time in the new testament – it is used by Mark and Luke of the upper room, the guest room where the last supper was eaten.

The first noel is actually also the first Eucharist – the first sharing in the presence of God on earth in Christ

Bethlehem meanwhile – if you still needed convincing – in Hebrew means house of bread

So Luke presents us with our own Christmas story in the very heart of his nativity narrative.

Like the shepherds we stop what we are doing, we come together, we give thanks and praise God for the blessings of our lives

We even sing the song of the angels in our Gloria –

–       Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth

We stop the story of our lives to live for while in the presence of Christ – the one who calls all, in whom all meet and who reconciles all

But there is a third person in the story whom we need to consider, Mary herself

Mary our patron and our inspiration who understood all this – paused in her life – allowed God to change its direction and as she saw the impact of what she had done – she ‘treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart’

The call of God changes us forever

We ‘ponder these things in our hearts’ and feel them transforming how we see the world and our position in it for ever more

So we find Jesus in the story of our lives as an historical figure who fulfilled ancient Jewish legends but who continually calls us into his presence today and transforms us – if we let him.

As we leave here today we take with us the peace and reconciliation which are to be found in God through Jesus Christ.  We take that peace and that ‘good news’ back to our families to our Christmas lunches and we continue to ponder these things in our hearts

And wherever you find yourself in this Christmas story

I pray that the wisdom of Joseph
And the courage of Mary
The goods news of the angels
The joy of the shepherds
But above all the peace of Christ
Will be with you all, this day and always

Amen

Chris Hancock, Christmas Day, 2015

 

[1] Mt 2:3 quoting Micah 5:2

[2] Isa 9:7

[3] Lk 2:11

[4] Lk 2:20

[5] Ex 12:1

[6] Luke 24

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