A Reading from the Book of Isaiah (9:2-7)
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts
will do this.
1 Sing to the Lord a new song; *
sing to the Lord, all the whole earth.
2 Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; *
proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations *
and his wonders among all peoples.
4 For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; *
he is more to be feared than all gods.
5 As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; *
but it is the Lord who made the heavens.
6 Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence! *
Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!
7 Ascribe to the Lord, you families of the peoples; *
ascribe to the Lord honor and power.
8 Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his Name; *
bring offerings and come into his courts.
9 Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; *
let the whole earth tremble before him.
10 Tell it out among the nations: “The Lord is King! *
he has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.”
11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
let the sea thunder and all that is in it; *
let the field be joyful and all that is therein.
12 Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy
before the Lord when he comes, *
when he comes to judge the earth.
13 He will judge the world with righteousness *
and the peoples with his truth.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to Titus (2:11-14)
The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (2:1-20)
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph 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. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And 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. In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “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 will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and 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 heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 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.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
“The angel said to them, ‘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.’” (Luke 2:10-11).
“Good news of great joy for all the people”? Was it really? I suppose how good it was depended on who you were. For the shepherds out there “abiding” in their field, it certainly would have been good news, just as it would have been for the vast majority of people living at that time under Roman rule.
But for those who ruled the empire as well as for those who, together with them, held the wealth and the power, not so much. They already had a “savior” and “lord”; those were titles that were claimed by Caesar Augustus. And all who benefited from the status quo were certainly satisfied with the emperor claiming those titles and with life in the empire staying pretty much the same. After all, it was working for them; and so they reacted with suspicion and even with hostility to anyone else who tried to claim that role and to change the way things were.
Maybe that is precisely the reason that Luke begins his Christmas story with a direct reference to Caesar Augustus and with his census: another attempt by the emperor to assert his power. But then the evangelist goes on to announce the birth of a new, a greater, a real “Savior” and “Lord.” The gospel of Luke, throughout its story, contrasts the ways of Caesar – the ways of dominance, control, and force – with the ways of the new, the genuine Savior and Lord — the ways of compassion and love and peace.
Some people have never accepted that “good news of great joy” for the world, that vision of another way of living, to which the gospel invites us. They continue to cling to the ways of Caesar. In philanthropist and statesman Bernard Baruch’s famous expression, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” They still see the use of force and control as the only way of dealing with others. Two thousand years of trying the ways of Caesar to procure peace and bring a better life to the world, and of seeing all those attempts fail, still does not seems to have fazed them. For them, the birth of this child, the Prince of Peace, could not be good news.
But even for us who celebrate the birth of the new Savior and Lord, there is still a question of whether or not the angel’s “good news” is really “good news” from our perspective. It all seems to depend on what we consider to be “good news.” It all seems to depend on what we are expecting this new child to be and to do in and for us, and in and for the world.
People, in general, love the Christmas story, at least the Christmas story as they choose to imagine it. They love the image of the innocuous, undemanding, little child lying in the manger: a child who, in their imaginations, has come to make their lives better. Their notion of a savior and lord is that of someone who will come to take care of everything, to transform the world somehow to be what God wants it to be: a world of peace, free from conflict, free from hunger, free from suffering. If that is what they hold in their fantasies, the message of the birth of Jesus will not end up being good news at all. Viewed from that perspective, Jesus’ life seems to have been a failure. If you expected him to do everything to remake this world into what he called “the kingdom of God,” you are bound to be sadly disappointed. Look around at the world in which we live. Does this look like the kingdom of God to you?
But if, on the other hand, we are willing to put aside our fantasies and to look at Jesus as he actually lived his life and as he actually proclaimed the kingdom of God, then there might just be good news here that we would not otherwise have recognized. Jesus did not come to make everything better: to magically take away our responsibility for doing the work that God has given us to do. Instead, he came to show us the way so that we might change the world, so that we might, with the Spirit of God working within us, help to transform the world into something that more and more closely resembles the world as God wants it to be.
Jesus came to affirm what the scriptures have proclaimed from the beginning: that we have been created in the image and likeness of God, that we have been empowered by God’s Spirit to be co-creators with the Great Creator, that God has trusted us enough to hand over to us the work of remaking the world.
And Jesus, in his life and in his death, showed us how that is done. He showed us that the use of dominance, control and force – the tools of Caesar and of all the would-be Caesars of the world – leads only to death. He showed us that the way of the loving acceptance of all people, with all their differences and uniqueness, that the way of active compassion, that the way of self-giving and self-sacrifice, is the way of God’s kingdom and the way to God’s kingdom.
But we will never come to know that kingdom and live in that kingdom if we just sit back and wait for God to do it all. Instead, we have to get up and go and experience that life and build up that kingdom ourselves. We have to join with the shepherds in declaring, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” Let us go now to Bethlehem to see the true Savior and Lord of the world. Let us go now to Bethlehem to know in our hearts and in our souls that God is not going to transform the world for us, but that, in the power of the Spirit of Jesus, God can and will transform the world through us.
And it is only when we hear and internalize and embrace and live the message of the angel and the words of the shepherds that we will come to know the real meaning and significance of this Christmas night. And it is then and only then that the message of Jesus’ birth will truly be “good news of great joy for all the people.”