Rev. George Miller
“Between Emperors and Angels”
Dec 24, 2011
Ya’ll may remember that when I arrived at Emmanuel UCC in 2010, one of the first sermons I gave was about being an A-Type personality.
There’s no denying that. I am “A” all the way. Not only that, I’m a list maker.
During that first sermon, I asked how many of you were the type of list makers that if you do something that’s not on your list, you write it down and then scratch it off.
Doesn’t it feel good to be in solidarity with others and to know you are not alone?
Well, is it me, or has this holiday season been one long list on top of list on top of list?
The lists of who to buy for, what to buy, and there’s always that one person you forgot?
How many have created a “Countdown to Christmas list?”
The time lines for when to wrap and mail presents, when to send out cards, when to grocery shop, when to take the turkey out of the freezer, when to make certain dishes.
List after list after list after list.
Because of this, how many already feel a bit burned out, tired, and looking forward to Dec 26 when life slows back down?
It’s normal to feel this way, that things are uber-busy, because truthfully that’s part of what’s going on in today’s reading.
Chapter 2 of Luke’s Gospel begins by making reference to a census decreed by Emperor Augustus.
And what is a census after all, but a list of lists?
It’s a government mandated event in which people are to be counted and compiled into where they are from, where they live now, how much they make etc.
By letting us know there was a census taking place, Luke is trying to set the birth of Jesus into a historical, social setting that people could understand.
And if you think about it, this census was more then an ordinary census: it was an event.
What do people need to do to prepare for an event? That’s right- make more lists!
For folk like Joseph and Mary who had to travel about 70 miles by foot or donkey, there were preparations to be made.
Such a trip would require food, water, clothes, shelter, supplies for the animals, all which require packing and planning.
Don’t forget making provisions for people to mind your business, look after your home, water the plants and take in the mail.
You don’t just jump onto a donkey with a pregnant woman and say “Away we go!” No, you plan, you prepare, and you save.
Then there are the people in places like Bethlehem who have to prepare for the return of their family and friends. They’ll be expected to open their homes, to provide meals, and entertain.
For them there’ll be the cleaning of the house, the washing of linens, the fixing up of broken windows and creaky doors.
There’s all the food preparation that will have to take place. Grapes made into wine, grain turned into bread; the planning of the meals, shopping at the market, killing the fatted calf,
figuring out who will sit next to Cousin Moira and where the kids table will be.
Lists upon lists upon lists to plan and prepare!
Let’s not forget about all the local business owners as they plan to welcome hundreds if not thousands of people into town.
The supplies they’ll need to order, the extra staff they’ll have to hire, the stocking of the shelves, the jacking up of prices, making sure they have the latest fashions, spices and perfumes so visitors can buy gifts for their hosts and their friends back home.
Then there is the underground community gearing up to be busy; the pick pockets ready to make a catch, the pool halls and nightclubs, call girls and card sharks.
Bethlehem would have been a busy place with people arriving, people hosting, people selling, people exploiting.
All busy busy, making lists and checking them twice to make sure nothing is missed.
The whole world it seems is moving at a dizzying pace…and this is when and where Jesus enters into their lives.
Not when things are calm and peaceful; not when everyone has had a chance to catch their breath.
But when the government is busy telling the world what to do and the world is busy and alive with movement.
So busy that barely anyone notices the birth of Jesus because they are so focused on their own lists and tasks.
No one that is, except for some poor shepherds who find a way to leave behind their work in the field, for the most important task of all: to glorify the Lord.
…The world was busy when Jesus was born, and the world continues to be busy now…
But for right here, for right now, for all my list makers, planners, worriers, and deep thinkers,
we are to take a deep breath
we are to be present before the Lord; just like Mary and Joseph,
just like the shepherds who came in from their field.
Tonight we are to forget about our lists,
about who will sit next to Cousin Moira
forget about where the kids table will be
forget about what still needs to be done
Tonight we are invited to be still, and to be present and to know that we are about to witness the greatest gift of all:
Emmanuel, which means “God with Us.”
And if you are sitting next to someone you love, someone you trust, I invite to clasp their hand for a second…and just be….
You know, just like back then during the census of Emperor Augustus, there is always so much to do.
Modern marvels like washing machines and e-mail haven’t really reduced the amount of work we have, they’ve just created space for new work.
So why do we continue to rush, rush, rush?
Just like back then, there will always be the rich and powerful among us, like Augustus and Quirinius.
Just like back then, there will always be the poor among us, like the shepherds, Mary and Joseph.
But between them exists an entire world, a world ablaze with light, in which there are angels amongst us, living and heavenly, who point us towards the Lord.
Angels who break through the darkness of night to remind us that there is so much more then what we can imagine or what we think we must do.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, between emperors and angels, between palaces and fields of clover, a baby was born into our world.
His name is Jesus; Christ the Lord,
born to set us free;
born to give us true sight;
born to bring good news and joy to the people,
both the 1 and the 99 percent.
Amongst all the traveling and list making and planning and doing,
what really mattered that night,
what really transpired in the manger,
was that Jesus was born so that our hearts
may sing out,
our minds may open up and
our spirits may be filled with light.
Light that says no amount of darkness,
no amount of worry,
no amount of anything can dim what we have found,
wrapped in swaddling clothes,
crying out to a wounded world
which will eventually cry out to Him.
Tonight, while the rest of the world is busy with lists and politics and commerce and greed, we are called to exist instead somewhere between emperors and angels,
for to each of us, the Christ child is born and we all are given a chance yet again to breath anew.
In conclusion, if you are an A-type personality, like me;
if you are a list maker, as I think many of us are,
tonight is the night for us to let that go,
to surrender to the moment,
and to know that it is a silent night,
a holy night,
in which all is calm,
and all is bright.
And we can leave our lists and our worries for another day.
For that, we can say “Hallelujah!” and for that we can say “Amen.”