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This Changes Everything

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Luke 2:1–20 NET
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus to register all the empire for taxes. This was the first registration, taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone went to his own town to be registered. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David. He went to be registered with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him, 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 strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Now there were shepherds nearby living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified.But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.”Suddenly a vast, heavenly army appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!” When the angels left them and went back to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, that the Lord has made known to us.” So they hurried off and located Mary and Joseph, and found the baby lying in a manger.When they saw him, they related what they had been told about this child, and all who heard it were astonished at what the shepherds said. But Mary treasured up all these words, pondering in her heart what they might mean.So the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; everything was just as they had been told.

A Ridiculous Beginning

This opening reads like a piece of satire. Like something a Roman playwright would’ve come up with as the basis for the next great farce. You can almost see him pitching the idea to his author buddies.
“Okay, I’ve got this great idea for a comedy. You know how Alexander the Great always claimed his mother was a virgin? Well, what if some peasant girl in, I don’t know… Nazareth. What if she got pregnant, and then told her husband - no, wait, her future husband - that her God did it! Like this kid is going to be the next great king.
Oh! Oh! And then when she’s about to have the baby, something happens that forces her to put him - get this - in a feeding trough!
But it doesn’t stop there! You know how Augustus is always saying he’s the savior of the world? What if, after the kid is born, there’s this divine birth proclamation. But it’s not made in the middle of Rome by a god like Mercury or Jupiter. No, the messengers of the God of Israel don’t know their way around, so they all get lost and end up delivering their message to shepherds. What? No, not a bunch of different shepherds - Every single messenger shows up in the same field, and delivers the message to this one group of shepherds.
Just you wait, this play is going to be the funniest thing you ever saw!”
It’s a story so ridiculous, it would be unbelievable… that is, if it weren’t true.
But buried in the details of this story about the news a group of shepherds once received, we find promises so big and so powerful, they change everything.

A New Kind of Hope

The best anyone in the lower classes in Israel could hope for before was that if they worked hard, and weren’t afraid to trample their peers, they could maybe climb their way up to the point where some rich person offered their children jobs as apprentices or high-ranking servants. Then, after a few more generations, their great-grandchildren might just have the privilege of being Roman citizens.
But God chooses a couple of nobodies, who come from nowhere, to parent the savior of the world. Not only that, but the announcement of this savior’s birth is delivered to a group of shepherds: men working in a profession that had no social status whatsoever.
God’s choices offer a new kind of hope: not a hope for elevated status at the expense of others. But for a world where good news is given to all people, because it is for the benefit of all people. This good news is good news indeed, because instead of being solely for the wealthy and privileged, the news of Jesus’ birth is good news to the poor, the oppressed, and the outcast, and in that news, there is a new hope.
And it doesn’t stop there.

A Different Peace

When the great host of God’s messengers filled the night sky, they sang a song of peace on earth.
This is a very interesting claim to make. According to the powers that be, there is already peace on earth - the great Roman Peace extends throughout the empire. That’s why the emperor feels comfortable spending the money necessary to take a census. If peace in his land were threatened, he would be committing his resources to protecting the borders, rather than stopping to count the people in the territories he’s about to lose to his enemies. But with no real threats to his vast empire, he can spend the time and money needed to count the people and figure out just how much he should be receiving in tax and tribute.
Caesar’s peace, however, is peace at the end of a sword. It is a peace preserved only by violence and the threat of violence - if you disturb the peace of Rome, Rome will silence you forever.
The peace the messengers promise is not one of intimidation, but of goodwill among all people. Imagine that. Imagine living in fear your whole life - fear of the government; fear of the police; fear your neighbor will get mad and report you out of spite - and imagine you had been told that fear was just the cost of having peace. And then imagine receiving a message straight from God: A message that begins with “do not be afraid,” and ends with the idea that true peace comes when we have good will toward one another. What a different world that would be! That new hope and different kind of peace would give way to something incredibly special.

A Greater Joy

These shepherds are probably not educated men. But chances are they spent one day each week in the synagogue, hearing stories read from Scripture. And on more than one occasion, those stories featured angels bringing good news. Actually, those stories started off awfully similar to the way this one did. Some person was going about their business when BAM! Scary angel shows up, says “don’t be afraid” and delivers a message.
This time turns out to be different. It starts in that same familiar way, but then… the whole sky explodes. There are angels everywhere. They’re singing and dancing and celebrating. This good news is so good that the whole contingent of God’s messengers wants to be involved in delivering it. The joy at this particular announcement is so great, God’s realm cannot contain it. It ripples out into the entire cosmos: a song that has to be sung. A party that must be thrown. A shout of joy so powerful it cannot be silenced.
And what is the source of this joy?

An Everlasting Love

Waiting for the shepherds, in a house so full of people that some are forced to bunk with the animals, are a young woman and her newborn baby, who she has swaddled and put to sleep. It’s a perfectly ordinary scene. One which happens every day in millions of houses, hospitals, birthing huts, and stables around the world.
But even though it’s perfectly ordinary, any person who has been a part of such a scene knows how life changing it is. How looking at the face of this brand new human fills you with the realization of just how much love can exist in the world. It’s a profound moment, no matter how often it happens.
And in this moment, the feeling is traveling both ways. Because this baby isn’t just any baby - this baby is also the God who created humanity, and whose heart was filled with that same depth of love. In this moment, as Mary feels a mother’s everlasting love toward her child, so too does God feel a mother’s everlasting love toward all humanity. God is now the parent of humanity, and the child of a human. There is nothing that can put a stop to the love which exists between the two.
And those shepherds, who abandoned their flocks to witness this scene, they know. They know that in this moment they are witnessing God’s plan for a new hope, a better peace, a greater joy, and an everlasting love. As they look with wonder at this holy mother and her sleeping child, they know that

This Changes Everything

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