The Interruption. Christmas Midnight sermon 2012
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 2:1-14
December 24, 2012
2000 years ago Caesar Augustus interrupted the lives of all the people in the entire known world.
Everyone had to go to their hometown and register so the government could keep track of them. History has no record of this census, other than what we have here in the Gospel of Luke. So scholars tell us that Luke invented this census to advance his theological agenda.
Yet 2000 years later this supposedly fictional census continues to ripple through history. It replays itself each year? How many people travel to their hometown at Christmas to celebrate the feast of the birth of Jesus the king of the Jews? Most of the people in the majority of the nations on earth identify themselves as Christians. Most of the world observes Christmas as a holiday.
Throughout the nations of the world, the birth of this Jesus whom the angels announced as savior and king is commemorated—purposely or not– by millions who travel to their hometowns just as Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem. And at least a few of them find their way into churches, into the stable in which Jesus is born and the fields in which the angelic hosts sing glory to God at His birth.
Tonight the world is interrupted by Jesus’ birth the way the world was interrupted by Caesar’s census.
Jesus is proclaimed by the angels as king and Lord and Savior of God’s people. And He is not only king and Savior of God’s people but of the whole world, of all people. Yet in the nations of the world that observe His birth, very few observe it for the sake of the good news of great joy of the savior born to us.
Most people are glad to have a holiday and glad to be with the family, glad to give and receive gifts, and maybe even glad to go to church and sing Silent Night by candlelight.
But the message of Jesus’ birth interrupts Christmas for many people. It is not for the sake of His birth that Christmas is celebrated by most people in the world.
For most people the thought that this baby in the manger is Lord and King who deserves the love and adoration of our hearts is an unpleasant interruption of that threatens to spoil what Christmas is really all about. The thought that Christmas should be joyful because a Savior is born interrupts the earthly joys that Christmas has come to be about. Christ the Savior is born—the message interrupts Christmas with the unpleasant remembrance that this day started as a day of joy because of people who believed that we need to be saved.
If Luke’s story is true, then we need to be saved very badly. Otherwise why would the angels appear and suddenly reveal the loud rejoicing that this birth brought about in heaven—unless we were really in deep trouble?
Even for true Christians, Christmas interrupts us. How easily we forget the promise that a Savior is born to us! We can’t see the Savior’s work, and we doubt it, and get overwhelmed with what we think we have to do. The joy of the angels and the peace of the angels we lack, even though it should be ours, because we listen very little to their singing and very much to the voice of reason, which is not able to accept anything that Scripture or Luke or the angels say.
Behind Caesar’s interruption of the world was God’s interruption. He was interrupting the world so that His Son, the Savior, would be born in Bethlehem.
- 1. Who is it that interrupts Christmas?
Is it possible that the God of the whole earth would be so narrow-minded that He would be revealed only to one nation? That He would let the lives of millions of people be disrupted, all for the purpose of having one baby be born in one backwater city?
That is what we confess. But we should not be surprised if people struggle with it. It’s contrary to everything people naturally think about God, whether in the time of the Romans or now. What made sense to almost everyone then is about the same as now: every nation has their own gods. And who would be so arrogant as to insist that their god was the only true God, that they of all nations alone knew God?
What is actually amazing is that the cultured and tolerant Greeks and the proud and powerful Romans came to believe that God revealed Himself to the Jews, this one little uncultured nation full of fanatics who struck them much the way that Muslim fundamentalists do us. That is an extraordinary thing. As the prophets of the Old Testament had promised, the kings of the Gentiles came and bowed the knee before the Messiah, the Christ, the King of the Jews.
And to this day in the post Christian America and Europe, and in more recently converted Africa we are still paying homage to the one who was proclaimed the king of the Jews. People still enter these old buildings built by grandparents and great grandparents to listen this story which was as alien then as it is now—alien and strange to Jew and Gentile, to Christian and skeptic.
Surely this should also cause reasonable people to pause.
It is a strange thing that a census that we are told never happened should still interrupt so many lives, and that the world which has grown past childhood should still be interrupted by this foolish story of God born to a virgin and laid in a manger.
It is a testimony to the fact that it is God who interrupts our holiday now. He reminds us that sin and death do not bow down to our ideas about what is reasonable.
God interrupted the Roman world so that the promised king would be born in Bethlehem.
It was God who saw to it that, at just the right time, Caesar Augustus, who called himself “the son of the divine”, issued a decree, and Joseph took Mary his betrothed down to Bethlehem the city of David. Thus the prophecy that came from Micah was fulfilled: But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto be that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. (Micah 5:2)
God is after all so exclusive that He will not allow the worship of idols to be a pathway to Him. He is so strict that He will punish forever those who refuse Him and serve things and beings that are not gods. And He did reveal Himself to and through one group of people—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jacob’s descendants.
In order to fulfill His word He interrupted the whole Roman world so that this baby would be born as He had promised.
Yet the king who was born was not only for the people of Israel. He was to send forth His light to the ends of the world and to draw all nations to Himself.
And it is this king who interrupts us with the story of His birth.
The story is that He came to shepherds.
Why to shepherds? Because that is the kind of king he is—the king who comes to serve. Not to exercise dominion for ourselves.
We are still people who do not want to be shepherds.
We have more in common with Caesar than we want to admit.
We do not want to glorify God.
We do not want to serve in lowly positions without reward, which is what our callings usually are.
We want to be high and not low, comfortable, not to have hardship.
- 2. Why His interruption is a cause of joy.
This king comes to proclaim peace. He conquers through peace.
He has his army proclaim peace to the lowly. What king sends his army to come and proclaim peace to those who have made war on him?
Jesus does. He interrupts the world so that He can be born as our king and shepherd, that is, our savior. The one who bears us and defends us.
He comes to glorify God in the stead of all men and turn away God’s wrath on our false worship.
He comes to make peace with God, and then between each other. The person who injures us and treads on our kingdom, from whom we demand restitution—Jesus comes to us and says, “Let his sins be on my back.”
He bears all the enmity.
You will never be without because this little poor baby, revealed to shepherds, is your God, who comes to give you everything you need and to save you, to bring you in to glorify God.
He indeed will make you a servant of God, zealous for good works.
But not by threats. By paying your debt. By opening Himself and all his treasures and giving them to you.
Who would look for God where the shepherds were told to look?
That is why God interrupts everything. He wants us to come and see where He has put Himself for us, to give us everything that is His. To overcome us with peace, not with weapons.
To the proud who want to go on in sin and in arguing about their virtues He will come in justice, but only because that is what they demand.
He comes in peace to make us just by His holy birth and His sacrificial death.
He interrupts us only to serve us and raise His scepter of peace.
To humble Himself to exalt you.