The Gospel for Christmas Day
Luke 2:(1-7), 8-20
In 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.
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!’
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Christmas is here. The early apricot tree is finished. Corey-next-door’s brother is down from the country. The Chrisco Hamper truck rolled up across the street last week. Year 12 results are out, and yesterday there was a Sunday mail delivery. People are already stressing already about how to cope with Uncle Mervyn, who kicked the cat at last year’s Christmas Dinner, and how to get food across town without spoiling it.
The secular feast is underway. For many this is all there is; religion and Jesus has little or nothing to do with it. Happy Holidays! Simply hearing the Christmas story in the Gospel of the day, would be news to lots of people. But merely repeating the story is only half the answer. Bill Loader says
Without its subversive theme the [Christmas] story degenerates into a myth of origins: the reason why we all have a good time, a kind of aetiology of the west.
I came home from the college once, and said to my wife, “Lee told me today that he actually worked with Roy Rogers!”
My kids said together, “And Roy Rogers would be who--?”
So I explained, and got that look which says one has been irretrievably assigned to the status of sad old man.
“You realise,” I said to my son, “that when you are older, your children will look oddly at you and say, ‘And Luke Skywalker would be who--?’”
He thought about this and shook his head. “No,” he said sagely, “I don’t think that’ll ever happen.”
I haven’t the heart to tell him that as I was waiting outside church on Sunday, I heard one of the teenagers say to his sister, “Who’s R2D2?”
All stories and characters have a half-life. Important as they may have been to us, they become irrelevant over timem, fading away. At best they are ‘the reason why we all have a good time, a kind of aetiology of the west,’ but of no real significance now.
This is why Christmas is secular. The food, and the booze, and the holidays have remained relevant. It’s not that the virgin birth, angels in the sky, and travelling kings (if Matthew’s version is part of your memory) are a problem. These are no more unusual or outlandish, or unbelievable, than the ghosts, vampires, and transformers of today. Jesus has ceased being our story, and been replaced by holidays and the beach.
The Jesus part of Christmas only becomes our story when we tell it with understanding. On Christmas morning, when the once a year visitors arrive to the shortened service I need to get the full story told...
How the Emperor Augustus was also called the saviour of the whole world, the son of God, and bringer of peace.
How in this, the first census of the whole world, designed to increase his power, Augustus was made to serve God’s purpose by bringing Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem for the first Christmas!
Bill Loader says
So the Christmas story is a cheeky response. It parodies these claims: the Son of God is a baby whose family can’t find accommodation; the good news of peace comes to ordinary shepherd folks of the hills; the peace is about real peace, real inclusiveness. It is people’s peace, people’s power, people’s salvation and liberation. The parody at birth reflects the parody at death, where we see the king crowned with thorns upon the throne of a cross.
I need to say to my congregation that here in this story, ‘cheeky’ and ‘parody’ are not the light hearted mockery we expect from Good News Week or The Chaser. This is deadly serious, and subversive. The Chaser marched into the APEC exclusion zone (see also below) in Sydney in 2007, with ‘Bin Laden’ in his limousine. They made a mockery of the powers meeting there. But The Chaser was playing it for laughs, and sensibly turned around, when it became obvious they were likely to get shot at, having got much farther in than they ever expected.
Jesus will keep on going, and be killed.
The mockery and parody is savage. The angels of God appear not to the mighty and important A-List people to announce the birth of the Messiah, but to smelly shepherds who are ‘living’ in the fields. Culpepper says they “ were scorned as shiftless, dishonest people who grazed their flocks on others' lands." Is there a snide comment here about the kind of people who are normally in the seat of power and prestige along the red carpet?
Beyond Christmas Day's lectionary selection, the story continues,
2:21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb....
and we see, in the very heart of the nation, in the temple, that all is in order. In the prophecy of Anna and Simeon we see that this story is not just mockery. This is subversion of Rome. This is the turning over of the way things are, and the beginning of how things are meant to be.
my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel. (2:30)
How much can I get this story into eight minutes on Christmas morning? I’m not sure, but without it, there really is no Christmas story worth telling, just Jesus fading away with Roy Rogers and Luke Skywalker.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The Chaser Stunt at APEC
The most prominent prank was the breach of an APEC restricted zone in the heart of Sydney central business district on 6 September. Julian Morrow directed a fake Canadian motorcade, which was allowed through the restricted zone by police and not detected until Chas Licciardello alighted, dressed as Osama bin Laden.
Although pranks that involved public locations, figures, and organisations were always a feature of the series, the APEC pranks yielded unprecedented local and international publicity, both positive and negative. Some team members faced charges for breaching the APEC zone, but these were dropped because police had allowed their entry into the restricted zone. Other less controversial and less publicised stunts were also shown on The Chaser's War on Everything, with ratings peaking at almost three million Australian viewers for the APEC wrap-up episode. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Chaser_APEC_pranks
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