St Matthews Digital
Advent and Christmas
25 December 2021
The 2021 Christmas special
A Christmas service filmed in St Matthew's, with a reflection from Vicar Helen Jacobi on the Christmas story found in Luke's gospel
Rev Helen Jacobi
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The 2021 Christmas special
Nau mai, haere mai a very warm welcome to St Matthew in the City in Auckland, Aotearoa, welcome, wherever you are this Christmas at the end of a challenging year. We are going to be gathering on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with just 100 people and you can watch those services on our live stream, but we're glad that you're watching us now.
And as we gather our prayer is that you will find some peace and joy amidst the strain and sorrows of our world.
00:01:29.400 --> 00:01:33.400 The gospel of Christ according to Saint, Luke.
And in those days a decree went out from Emperor, Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.
Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea to the city of David called Bethlehem because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child and she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger. For there was no room for them in the inn.
In that region, there were shepherds living in the fields. Keeping watch over their flock by night and then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them do not be afraid for see, I am bringing you good news of great.
joy for all the people to you is born this day in the city of David, a saviour, who is the Messiah This will be a sign for you. You will find a child wrapped and bands of cloth and lying in a manger.
And suddenly, there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, glory to God, in the highest heaven and on earth, peace among those whom he favours.
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, let us go.
now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place which the Lord has made known to us.
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in the manger.
When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen as it had been told them.
This is the gospel of Christ.
The Christmas story is set in our minds I think by scenes like this. Maybe you have a nativity scene like this at home, or you've seen one in a shop front, or you've seen it on Christmas cards. We have the angels and the shepherds and the Magi Mary, and Joseph and the baby. It paints the scene, but it leaves it frozen in time and we leave it there.
The gospel writers, Luke and Matthew would I think be a little horrified by what we have managed to do to their stories. For a start, they wrote two completely different versions of the story, and we've boxed them up and made them static and taken away their power.
That was not what they intended of course.
They gave us stories with layer upon layer of meaning for us to ponder and unpack and to help answer the question that they were written to answer: who was Jesus? That was the question they started with, who was Jesus?
I want to talk about Luke's story today. For Matthews story you'll have to tune in again on the Feast of the Epiphany. When you hear about the Magi coming with their gifts, they don't actually arrive till the Epiphany.
But Luke the way he tells, his story has actually only one sentence about Jesus' birth "and Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a Manger, For there was no room for them in the inn." From that one sentence, our tradition has conjured up a stable and animals. We don't have animals in our scene, but often there's animals and also an image of Mary and Jesus, and Joseph being alone. Just think of the Carol that you've just heard Away in a Manger. It's all about them being lost and alone.
But in first century Palestine, no one would have left Mary and Joseph to fend for themselves. They would have been surrounded with help from the local women, certainly for the birth.
And the manger, which we think about being separate out in the barn was actually dug in the lower floor of a Palestinian house because the animals lived inside at night. And so the manger would have been inside the house quite safe and warm and surrounded by lots of people.
Most of Luke's story apart from that one line about the birth is all about the context and the setting.
The context is the census ordered by Emperor Augustus. The census is a means of control and the recording of the population is done in order to tax them. So straight away we are in the real world of politics and taxes and foreign rulers.
Joseph we are told is descended from the House of David, King David. That is who ruled about 1000 BC so quite a long time before Jesus birth but that mention of David flags for us the expectation of the coming of the Messiah who was so longed for and it sets up Joseph and Mary and Jesus in contrast to the house of Caesar the emperor.
Then after the one line about the birth come the shepherds. There's way more said about the shepherds in the story than anyone else. Ordinary peasants of low status working night and day in the fields to breed the lambs that were sacrificed at the temple.
And the temple is the other place of power. So you've got Rome with the emperor in it and the temple in Jerusalem led by the priests and the scribes - two places of political power And then these shepherds these ordinary people. They are the first to be told the news of Jesus' birth. The people with the least power hear the news first.
And of course, they're told the news by angels. The word angel just means messenger. And the angels are not controlled by Rome or the Temple. And so neither, powerbase can contain the story.
Even in the face of unbridled political power, God uses ordinary people to overturn the powers of the world.
So our Christmas story is actually quite a revolutionary tale. This is the way that Luke decides to answer. The question, who is Jesus and how was it that he comes to be born, amongst the people of that age and that time. Luke weaves us a tale of political intrigue and powerful players.
And in the midst of this, just for a moment, we get to see a baby born to a mother who wraps them like any other newborn and who ponders the strange words of her visitors.
Our world is just as complex and just as dangerous as Jesus' world, we're living in pretty complicated times.
Jesus today would be born in the house of a distant relative, his parents having fled war or famine. The shepherds would be locals with no secure employment or future, the angels would be Aid workers or peacekeepers coming with the good news of a better future.
If you have a nativity scene in your home, like this one, look at the pieces, and think about who the people really were or who might they be today?
What are they telling you about who Jesus was and who he is for us now?
The Christmas story is there to be unpacked, don't leave it in its box or on a Christmas card,. Breath your own life into it and see where it takes you.
And we pray, we pray for peace in our homes and peace throughout the world.
We pray for people like Mary and Joseph searching for shelter.
We pray for workers like the Shepherds who do not get a Christmas holiday. We pray for our essential workers and give thanks for all the work they have done during our lockdowns.
We give thanks for those who are messengers of hope for us.
And we give thanks for those people who will be a gift to us this Christmas time.
Son of God, child of Mary, born in the stable at Bethlehem. Be born again in us this day that through us the world may know the wonder of your love. Amen.
May Christ our infant savior give you the joy of the Bethlehem shepherds the awe of the worshiping sages, and the love of the Holy Family and the blessing of God, Creator, Redeemer and Giver of Life be with you now and always. Amen.