Advent is over, our waiting is done. So where is this king, where is this reorientation that we’ve been waiting for all this time, where is this justice and peace we have been promised? As Canadians, we have a form of democracy which requires a speech from the throne, either by the monarch themselves or their representative to begin the legislative session. In a lot of ways, tonight feels more like a speech from the throne than a birthday because of what tonight says to our world. Just last week, we saw the English state opening of parliament, known for its pomp and pageantry, the same pomp and pageantry we could expect this evening as we welcome our new King. Yet the Queen arrived not in a coach and ermine lined processions with diamonds and pageantry, but in a car, in a day dress, without big pomp. They called it a “stripped down” opening, due to the timing of their election and Christmas, but in some ways it was a foretaste to what this evening is all about. As the Queen read her speech, officially opening parliamentary debate on its contents, she was setting out the trajectory of what her government seeks to accomplish, by simply speaking. Tonight we witness God’s speech from the throne which establishes God’s presence and governance among us forever.
At its heart, governments are to work on our behalf and to make progress in areas that are important to the whole of society. Sadly, few governments truly live up to this ideal for varied reasons, and even in Jesus’ time the politics of his birth could not be more striking. Kings and Queens are meant to arrive in great splendor and pageantry. 21 gun salutes hail the birth of a new baby, not the noise of animals. Ermine and soft cottons are meant to enrobe the new baby for presentation to the world, not hay and cattle food. Yet this is the position that Luke’s gospel puts us in this evening, as we peer over that bed with shock and surprise to witness Christ’s first breath. Luke is doing what Luke does best in this chapter by showing us again the frail falsehood of worldly power against the contrast of heavenly power in the way the two royal courts of our gospel are positioned. Tonight in Luke, we are surrounded by an occupier upending us into new places by force via a census. The emperor, the power, sits at a distance enrobed in splendor and luxury, directing the lives of millions with the twinkle of an eye, waiting in constant anxiety for what might come next, while the king of kings is born in a stable, to two scared parents and a world that doesn't know what to do with it. And we are told “do not be afraid!” yet, there is every reason to be afraid tonight.
But why would we be afraid… This should be a time of dancing and rejoicing, yet we are told not to be afraid because what is being announced to us is not just life changing, it's life threatening. The world in which Christ was born may feel so far away that this night is nothing more than a fable or vignette of traditions, but I wonder if the occupiers and controllers of Christ’s time are still very present with us today. The power of Rome was in its absolute control of human activity. Who you could eat with, marry, socialize with, live next too. How you dressed. Everything. Rome controlled everything. Sometimes, waiting in the line up at our local grocery store, reading the magazines at the checkout, it feels like the oppressors of Rome are still with us. “Lose weight to be happy! Look good this holiday season by following our plan! Christmas isn't Christmas without these cookies! You’re doing it wrong if you aren't wearing this sweater!” are just some of the slogans I’ve read. All of which feed our internal slogans of “I'm not good enough, I'm not capable of love, No one loves me” among others, that keep us on guard, keep us defensive to a season that generally assaults our senses with cheer, joy, and merriment. It's easy then for you and I to feel like Augustus, to control and compartmentalize our experiences- to limit our exposure and just get through it. When Rome, the things which keep us back, follow us like a dirty shadow, that make us feel less than who we are, rears its ugly specter in this season, it's no wonder we buy more, consume more, party more, because not to means we have to face our fear. Our fear that this preparation over Advent was wasted, the prophecies and promises of scripture were just hollow words, that nothing we’ve hoped for in this world will change, and that we will once again sing our carols, share our joy, and go home to the same life we live everyday. But do we?
When Jesus breathes in the manger for the first time, the whole cosmos are altered- an unchangeable moment in human history that no legislation can undo.This event happens not in the middle of a grand building, but on the edge and in the dark. The heralds of his birth are not trumpets but animals, the visitors are not nobility, but peasants, outcasts, and the everyday local folk in the area. These are the unlikely heralds of a cosmic event, the ones the world would not expect to carry the message of this new kingdom, this new king, taking his first breath among us, but that is exactly who is chosen. Nothing about that night meant that these people could ever go back to life the way it was, because in that split second from screaming birth pangs, to first breath, the world went from ordinary to extraordinary, the kingdom of God took hold and a new world order began of God’s governance and kingdom.
Think about it for a second, the first heralds of the birth are the shepherd. Shepherds are leaders, in that they care for and help guide those under their charge, usually sheep- very crafty and unpredictable animals with self will. Shepherds are guides, and are guided, just like you and I. We all have places of responsibility just like these shepherds where people rely on us, maybe it's family, friends, work, social, or private, we all are guided and guide others. It is in these places of responsibility that God desires us to proclaim God’s governance for the world, where there is enough, where we are enough, where everyone belongs, the poor are fed, the sick and rejected are made whole- work that is for you and I to both lead in doing, and invite others into doing with us. This is what makes us the unlikely heralds of Christ’s birth tonight because we are to go into our places of responsibility, into ourselves and our world, and share the joy of this night. When the world tells us the planet is here for our pure profit- we say no, it is here for our health and welfare and choose to live differently. When the world tells us we are not enough, we say no, that we are made perfectly in God’s incredible love and no one has the power to tell us otherwise. No one. When the world says homeless people are a problem or a number, we say no- they are our friends and neighbours, and we treat them with the dignity we expect for ourselves. When the world says war is the only answer, we say no- humans are built for love, not war, all because of the mystery we see in a feed trough tonight.
Christmas is about hearing the breath of the Christ Child tonight as the breath of God's governance present among us and going into the world and becoming the change we want to see, and never being afraid again, because God is with us- leading us- into new life that transforms the world in which we live. In becoming human, God ensured that nothing could ever take us away from God. Tonight we see the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecies, of John the Baptist's assertions- that a new world order has begun, a new government is taking over our world in the form of a helpless, loving, beautiful, innocent baby.
Go and tell the world, church, what you see and hear tonight at the edge of this feed trough. Tell the world that its darkness, that its occupation, that its isolation is over forever, hate and rejection are crumbling like castles of sand, the poor are being fed, the sick and rejected are being cared for here in this parish. Tell the world that the homeless are housed and are our friends, because God is with us, and together we are working in His name in this parish. Invite others into this kingdom work we do everyday, and never ever be afraid again- Emmanuel is here! God is with us!, the heavens rejoice, let our song into eternity be- Glory to God! Glory to our newborn king!