There’s Still Hope
(Luke 2: 1-20)
There’s just something about the birth of a child, the excitement of a new life and the eager anticipation of what they bring, knowing that your life will be changed in ways you cannot possibly imagine. That’s the way I remember it. My oldest was born 41 years ago this month to be followed by her brother a couple of years later. It’s one thing having a spouse who is an equal partner doing their fair share and shouldering the responsibilities that come with making a home and building a future. But then this tiny little human being arrives making one demand after another without the possibility of any fruitful negotiations. All of a sudden, you are parents with new responsibilities that keep you awake at night. In those rare moments in between feedings and changings you dream of what the future has in store for them. Will this child grow up to be a responsible adult who contributes meaningfully to society in spite of your best efforts? You have hopes for their future and at the same time they are the hope of the future. Will they be able to make something of the mess we’ve made of the world making it a better place for our grandchildren?
That’s the underlying story of our scripture reading for today. A baby coming into a world that was in turmoil. His country was occupied by a foreign military force with the citizens being taxed heavily to support this presence. The local authorities weren’t doing anything to ease the daily burdens of life. Hunger, poverty and homelessness were rampant. To the have-nots all seemed hopeless with no relief in sight. Each new day mirrored the last.
As I read and reread this story I began to see some remarkable similarities. Mary and Joseph lived in a country that was ruled by a government that was more intent on their own self-promotion and survival. The Roman government decided it needed more money to fund this huge occupation force and to line the pockets of the ruling elite. They decided that the best way to do this was to require everyone to return to their home cities in order to be counted and then taxed. Just think of how much would be involved for you to return to the place of your birth or your family’s hometown. I’d have to pack up and drive all the way across the country to Syracuse, New York. This was even more troublesome for Joseph because Mary was pregnant. When Teresa and I moved from Syracuse to Houston she was pregnant, and I can tell you traveling a great distance with a pregnant woman is no walk in the park and we did it in a 1974 Chevrolet. Can you imagine doing it on a donkey even if it is only 70 miles? To complicate matters, the child Joseph’s fiancé is carrying is not his. It would have been much easier for Joseph to tell Mary that this marriage just wasn’t going to work out, send her back home to her parents, and set off from Nazareth to Bethlehem by himself. But we know that Joseph was a righteous man and that he committed to do the right thing by Mary as they had both been told by the Angel of the Lord that the child she was carrying was God’s son.
When they finally got to Bethlehem for the census they found that the small city was full of other similarly situated people who had also traveled great distances. They couldn’t go to a hotel app on their Iphone and make a hotel reservation. They had to do the best they could. They were able to find accommodations in a stable. It is doubtful that the manager moved the animals outside, so we can assume they shared the space with the livestock. Because I had gone through Lamaze classes I was allowed in the delivery room and I can tell you everyone had fresh gowns on, gloves and masks. Jesus was born into a less than sterile environment and there is no mention of a doctor or a midwife in our Christmas story. We are told that after Jesus was born, Mary wrapped him snugly and laid him in a manger because there was no room in the inn. This implies to me that Joseph may have gone to the innkeeper to see if he could bring Mary and Jesus inside. I’ve often wondered why Joseph didn’t pull rank and tell the innkeeper that Jesus was the son of God. Maybe he did, and the innkeeper just didn’t buy it. After all, cash was king at the time and Jesus was not recognized by the desk clerk as the newborn king.
We next learn that the Lord’s angel visited some shepherds who were living in the fields tending their sheep. The angel tells them not to be afraid and told them they had good news, wonderful and joyous news for all people. “Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” As the angel was preparing to depart there came a great assembly of heavenly forces praising God and saying, “Glory to God in Heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” You have to give the shepherds credit. They talked among themselves and decided to go down to Bethlehem and check it out for themselves. It didn’t take them long to locate Joseph and Mary and, upon entering, they saw the baby lying in the manger. After seeing with their own eyes, they told Mary and Joseph what they had been told by the angel of the Lord. With all that was going on, Mary was at peace just like any other woman is after giving birth as they ponder the miracle they’ve just experienced. We know this because we are told that Mary committed them to memory treasuring them in her heart. It was special. When all the excitement died down the shepherds returned home glorifying and praising God for they had seen and heard and all they told were amazed at what they heard.
I find it significant that the first people to proclaim the birth of the newborn king, the long-awaited Messiah, the hope of the world were lowly shepherds. There was no press conference with reporters and cameras led by some politician or important dignitary using the occasion as a photo opportunity. The angel of the Lord could have just as easily gone to the mayor’s house or to the homes of the city council. No, the Good News was announced to those who had been longing to hear it. It was announced to those who would go and tell others who needed to hear it. The shepherds, who were Jewish, knew what was foretold by the prophets and were anxiously awaiting the one who would bring them relief, one who would bring them a better life. As they had nothing, they had nothing to lose. In their excitement over the promise of a better future, a future with hope, they told everyone they met.
So, here we are, two thousand years later and we, like those living in Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth, are still living in a world beset by turmoil and unrest. A world where many are hurting and living in despair where all hope is gone. A world where a few have so much and the many have so little. A world where those in power fight to maintain their positions at the expense of the people they pledge to serve. But there is one difference. Jesus has come, and he promises to come again. There is still hope for the future. Jesus came to live among us and get to know us and to let us get to know him through his teachings and the example he set for us in the earthly life he led. We know the hope we have is true because we know and believe in the promise Jesus made of eternal life for all of those who accept him. Because we know there is still hope, like the shepherds, we need to go tell all who will listen about the hope there is in Jesus Christ. We need to tell it on the mountains, over the hills and everywhere that Jesus Christ was born for us and that there is hope for the world.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, we are at a loss to truly and adequately express what it means to us that you thought so much of us that you would send your son to earth as a child to be born in such a lowly state to grow among us and live as we live. Your act of love and mercy overwhelms us. We praise you in all your glory and majesty for your gift of hope in a future with you where we will experience pain and despair no more. Use us as you used the shepherds to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and the life of peace and joy that he promises. In the name of your son, Jesus Christ, the hope of the world, we pray, amen.