Today is the fourth and final Sunday in Advent. Advent, a 4 week period of time in the Christian calendar, which starts the liturgical year, where we wait, ponder, and prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ. The four traditional themes that are explored during Advent are Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.
We have explored Hope, Peace, and Joy over the last three weeks and today we’ll be wrapping up Advent by exploring and unpacking Waiting for Love. We’ll do that by finally getting to the New Testament We’ll be looking at the birth narrative of Jesus found in Luke 2:1-7, one that I believe many of us probably have heard many times before, and some may even have memorized. Let’s see what Luke 2:1-7 has to say to us about waiting for love.
Luke 2:1-7 says, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”
Upon first reading we get this sentimental feeling that comes over us. We dream up this safe and sanitized version of the story where the setting is this iddlic and peaceful place. Where there is no blood from the birth, no crying from the baby, no crap from the animals, the hay is hypoallergenic, and everything is just beautiful and serene. But when we dig a little deeper into this story, do some historical research, we begin to see that this story is about as subversive and countercultural as you can get. You see Luke’s story digs underneath this typical story of everyday empire and undermines it with the news of a different kind of “empire” and a different kind of “emperor”. This, when you get right down to it, is a story about two kingdoms coming into direct conflict. The Kingdom of God which is a Kingdom of love, and the Kingdom of this world, which is a Kingdom of violence, hate, and death. This confrontation between two Kingdoms start with the very first verses of Luke 2 which sounds more like historical detail than a conflict.
The first two verse in Luke 2 states, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)” Now this doesn’t seem very important, just a way of grounding the story of Jesus birth in history, by adding names, details, and information, but when we look at who issues the decree, what a census did at the time, and other details we continue to see the Kingdoms come into conflict.
Let’s look at Caesar Augustus first. You see Augustus was the adopted son of Julius Caesar. He became the sole ruler of the Roman world after a bloody civil war in which he over powered his other rivals. In fact, the last rival to be destroyed was a man name Mark Anthony. It was Caesar Augustus who turned the Roman republic into an empire, with himself at the head. He was the one to bring the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome into existence. He proclaimed that he had brought justice and peace to the whole world, declared his adopted father to be god, and therefore, by being the son of Julius Caesar, that he was the son of god. He was also called savior, Lord, and many other messianic terms and he was worshipped as a deity as well.
And so this ruler, this emperor, this so called son of god, savior and lord calls for a census to be taken of the entire Roman world. Now you and I have taken part in a census before. The government sends you a form to fill out about your family, etc.. and you fill it out and return it to them, no big deal. But in that day and time a census was a big deal because it required a lot from each person. Mary and Joseph were required to go back to Joseph’s hometown in order to register for the census. Census’s in that day and time raised sharp and dangerous questions. Dangerous questions like who runs the world, how is it being run, who profits from it, who gets crushed, when it is all going to change, and what should we do about it? Every time a census was decreed there were riots that came with it and people got killed. Because, like in our day, census’s were taken for tax purposes. And so you had to get up, go to your homeland, register, all for the privilege of giving money to those who were oppressing you.
So here we have Mary and Joseph traveling to their hometown of Bethlehem which is the birth place of King David. And so we see from this fact of his place of birth, and also from his lineage found in Matthew 1, that Jesus was in a human royal blood line, a Kingly family line. And again we see the conflict between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this world, by nature of who is true ruler and King in the world.
You will notice that this conflict has theological and political ramifications. Too often we just read this Christmas story, and it makes us feel good. After all who doesn’t love a good story with a baby in it? Or we just read the story as only affecting another realm, the heavenly realm, and that this story didn’t and doesn’t have any real ramifications in this world of war, brokenness, hatred, violence, love, beauty, pain, joy, and sorrow. But this story does have theological and political and “real world” ramifications. Theologically we see that Jesus is somehow identified with God in a unique way. Politically we mentioned earlier that there was already a son of god, savior and Lord on the earth, in the form of Caesar Augustus. And now here is this little baby, born in a manger, in an out of the way town, who is the true ruler of the world, and then by definition Caesar is not, and certainly not the powers of the world today. The birth narrative of Jesus points to this explosive truth that the baby in the manger is already being spoken of as the true King of the world. Is it any wonder than that the powers of the empire and the Kingdom of this world wanted him dead from his birth all the way until his death by the weapon of execution of the empire, a Roman cross.
We read the rest of the story (not all the details mind you) in Luke 2:3-7 which tells about Mary and Joseph’s journey to their hometown of Bethlehem to register, and their experience of giving birth to Jesus, in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. This boy born to a teenage mother, through the power of the Holy Spirit, was what the people of God were waiting for, from the moment of their Abrahamic covenant back in Genesis 12:1-3 (and as an aside Jesus is the full fulfillment of that covenant as he is the one who blesses the world the most and the fullest). They were waiting for the savior, the redeemer, the deliverer, the messiah. They were waiting for love to come in its fullness. They just never expected their hopes, their dreams, their waiting, their longings to be fulfilled by this child. They were hoping and longing for a messiah who would fight fire with fire, who would establish a kingdom with them in charge, an empire exactly like the Roman empire just with the people of Israel in charge, and dishing out the violence to anyone who got out of hand and out of line. But that is not what happened. No, Jesus, the baby born in the manger in Bethlehem, grew up not to establish an empire like all other worldly empires, but to establish the Kingdom of God. A Kingdom not established and maintained by violence, hate, and oppression but a Kingdom established by love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and dying to yourself. A Kingdom that didn’t use violence in order to bring about shalom. But a Kingdom that submitted itself to violence in order to bring about true shalom. A Kingdom that is all about love. Isn’t that what much of the New Testament talks about? What are the two greatest commands? Love God and Love others. What is God according to 1 John? God is love.
When God initiates this rescue mission, this redemption of the world, this Kingdom movement, by sending his only son it was always a matter of love. His love for a creation that had gone astray and continues to go astray. A creation that chooses it’s own way. People, like you and I who choose hate, violence, death, selfishness, and brokenness over love, servanthood, selflessness, life, and peace. But that is exactly why Jesus came, to show us a different way, a different way that is still possible. Jesus came to show us a different Kingdom and a different King. One that is about love, justice and mercy. The greatest Christmas gift ever was the baby born on that first Christmas to show us a Kingdom way of love. A Kingdom way that shows us that we are loved as his creation and that he then calls us to live another way, another reality, a Kingdom of God reality by loving others including our neighbors, our friends, and yes, even our enemies.
So what happened that fateful night all of those years ago a half a world away? What happened when a teenager girl, who was pregnant, came to Bethlehem with her husband, who wasn’t the father of the child? What was so special about this story, this baby born in Bethlehem that we continue to read, talk, dream, prepare and wait all of these years later? What happened on that first Christmas night? It was the night in which love came down and touched earth, in the form of the Christ Child.
Over a hundred years ago, a writer penned the words that bear this fact out, that love came down and planted itself on earth in the form of Jesus. Christina Rossetti wrote the poem that would come to be known as Love Came Down at Christmas. And I want to read this poem, as a means to end my part of the message, because I believe this is what we have all been waiting for. Love.
Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love Divine, Love was born at Christmas, Star and Angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead, Love Incarnate, Love Divine, Worship we our Jesus, But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token, Love shall be yours and love be mine, Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
So let’s talk about what it means to wait for love. That Jesus embodied love and what it means that he calls us to embody the Kingdom of love in the world. Let’s talk about what it means to you to know that Jesus came to show us his Father’s love for us, and how he came to show us another way to live, a way of life defined by love of God and love of others.
1. What questions, thoughts, comments, insights come to mind when you read the text and/or listened to the message?
2. What does it mane to you that God showed his love to us through sending Jesus? How can you love God this week?
3. What does it look like to love others this week for you? Who might God be calling you to love with the love of the Christ child?