Thursday – Dec. 24, 2015
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.” Those days…….those two words carry a lot of weight. Those days They conjure up so many memories. Some we think back on them with fondness, and they warm us like a thick blanket on a cold evening. We refer to them as the good old days, like those days when we were young and didn’t have a care in the world and we played outside for hours and hours losing track of time. Or those days we spent helping out our grandma and grandpa with special chores around the house or farm. Or those days when our brother or sister or friend spent hours with us planning our next big adventure.
But sometimes those days are looked back on with a heavy sadness, like those days, when things seemed better than they are now, and we long for that time again. Or like those days when we spent so much time with that special person – maybe a relative or a spouse or a friend – and our life was just filled with so much joy and now they’re gone leaving us with an empty space. Or those days, when we went through that terrible tragedy, but somehow we managed to get through it.
Those days….they stir up deep emotions within us. That’s one of the things that brings us back to worship here tonight. We hear the words, “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered” and immediately we are taken back to the first time we heard that story, the story of the first Christmas.
We gather tonight to hear this familiar story. It’s a story we’ve heard over and over again. Yet, like most beloved stories we never grow tired of hearing it. But do we just gather tonight to hear a story that we know so well, or is there something else that draws us here this night? Is there something else we are looking for this evening? Something that we hope to experience? Is it even possible to hear and experience this story as if for the first time?
If your name is Imogene, Claude, Ralph, Leroy, Ollie, and Gladys Herdman the answer is most definitely yes. These are the six delinquent children from the fictional book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which starts off by telling us what happened in those days. It begins by saying the Herdmans were the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied, stole, smoked cigars, swore, and hit little kids. Then to everyone’s horror they went to church for the first time after being told that the church offered snacks. And despite protests from other church members, they were given roles in the Sunday school’s Christmas play. When the Herdmans heard the Christmas story about Herod who wanted to kill the baby Jesus, well….they wanted to re-name it Revenge at Bethlehem, and what happened after that was unforgettable! If you haven’t seen this play, or movie or read the book, I encourage it highly. I re-lived this wonderful story when I saw the play recently that two of our members were in. It made me wonder, “What would it be like if we could hear and experience this familiar story as if it were the first time?” What if we heard this broadcast on the news:
“In those days a decree went out from Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, and all the local governors that the entire world should be registered because registering meant keeping track of us so we could pay more taxes. Everyone has to make travel arrangements to leave work and go to our place of birth. For some people this will mean traveling very far away. Men, women, and children need to leave the comforts of their homes and daily routines in order to comply with a new government ruling.” Maybe if we heard that, it would get our attention. Because those days would not just refer to generations ago, but to our own lives. We’d see that those days filled with census taking and taxes, power struggles and political scapegoating, poverty and homelessness, are not so far in the past. Those days could be written about the times we are living in now. Those days, when people are frightened about so many things – poverty, unemployment, terrorism, sickness, and death – speak of the human condition throughout the ages.
The story of an unwed pregnant teenage mother, a couple traveling from town to town looking for a place to stay where no one will ridicule them because of their situation, a baby born in a place far from a cozy warm house, and evil and jealous leaders trying to destroy a child or anything that threatens them, are all situations that could easily take place at any time in history. Situations like this happen every day. Some make the news and others sadly do not. So why do we come tonight to hear what may seem to some as another common occurrence? What makes this story in Luke’s gospel so different? What makes us stop and sit for a while and hear this story again?
It’s the words spoken to us by the angels that bring us here tonight. “Do not be 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.” This day. This day is different than all the rest. This day overpowers all the fear of those days. This day something spectacular and miraculous has happened. This day a Savior, Jesus the Christ, our Messiah, has come to save us. This day our Savior has come to say that all the hurts and pains and suffering of those days do not control our lives any more. This day God has seen and heard the cries of all people and done something about them. This day we are delivered from those painful memories that want to rule our lives. This day we have been given a new beginning, a new hope, a new promise that the One we have been waiting to save us is finally here and will never leave us.
And that “good news of great joy is for all people1” Like the Herdmans in the play, the Best Christmas Pageant Ever, God’s promise of love, grace, and salvation is not only for those we think deserve it, but for all of us, who may feel overlooked, unwanted, and undeserving. The good news of great joy came first to the lowliest of people – shepherds or herdsmen – sleeping out in the fields taking care of their shape. No one is too insignificant in the eyes of God. And no place is too remote that God cannot reach us.
This day, God has reached down from the heavens and delivered to us a Savior. A Savior who will take all the pain and emptiness of those days, and replace it with the joy of this day. This day our salvation has come. This day God has broken into the world. This day Our Light has come, the Prince of Peace, and that is a story we can tell over and over again. Amen!