Blog / Book of the Month / Bah-Humbug-s & Gloria-in-Excelsis-Deo-s / Luke 2:1-20 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Saturday December 24th 2022 / Christmas Eve / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Bah-Humbug-s & Gloria-in-Excelsis-Deo-s / Luke 2:1-20 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Saturday December 24th 2022 / Christmas Eve / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Bah-Humbug-s & Gloria-in-Excelsis-Deo-s / Luke 2:1-20 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Saturday December 24th 2022 / Christmas Eve / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Saturday December 24th 2022: Christmas Eve / Luke 2:1-20 "Bah-Humbug-s and Gloria-in-Excelsis-Deo-s"

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths 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,

                 and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

         When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. The birth of Christ Jesus is a real mess of contradictions; it’s all Bah-Humbug-s and Gloria in-Excelsis-Deo-s, the mundane and the extraordinary, the expected and the unexpected. And so it is with us, even now, as we celebrate the birth of Christ, as watch for His second coming on The Last Day: our hearts are cranky one minute and warm and fuzzy the next, our minds are anxious one minute and at peace the next, for some of us we are bothered by how our bodies ach one minute and the next minute it doesn’t matter so much because we rest in the promises of Christ Jesus. One minute we float on the comforting Gloria in Excelsis Deo-s of the Christmas hymns of our faith and the next we trudge through the Bah Humbug dark streets of our daily grind. As you are pulled back and forth between the mundane and the extraordinary tonight becomes an opportunity to ponder what is treasured in your heart?

Let’s start our contemplation with one of those ordinary, bothersome things, the kind of thing that threatens to get under your skin and stink up your holiday cheer:

In our reading from Saint Luke’s Gospel this evening did you notice how the birth of Christ was impacted by a mundane bureaucratic impulse—a government fooling around with money: The Roman government was attempting to rake into their coffers more tax revenue from their various Provinces, and this, as we heard, had a direct bearing on where Jesus was born. At nine months pregnant I’m sure the Virgin Mary had little desire to travel anywhere outside of Nazareth in Galilee let alone to do so because of taxes. The first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus[1] records how this decree of “Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered,” took a around five years to accomplish in the corner of the world we are focused on tonight, which includes the little town of Bethlehem; and in the Roman provinces of Gaul—an area that spanned what is now modern-day France and parts of Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, western Germany, and northern Italy—in that Roman Province there was such opposition to this decree of Caesar Augustus’ that the whole process took 40 years to accomplish.[2] The fallen nature of mankind is perpetually obsessed with the selfish manipulation of money and power, it is ever tempted to exceed its vocational limits and responsibilities, and yet this predictable foible driving the heart of Caesar Augustus and the Roman bureaucratic machine becomes the very mechanism by which the prophecy of the Christ’s birth would be fulfilled. God the Father used something as mundane and bothersome as registering for taxes to bring the Virgin Mary, heavy with child, down to her husband Joseph’s ancestral home town so that the LORD’s promise would be fulfilled; so that the extraordinary only begotten Son of God, “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God,” would be born in the right place at the right time, for them, for you, for all of us: laid to rest in an ordinary manger, a feeding trough for livestock:

         But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,

                 who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,

         from you shall come forth for Me

                 one who is to be ruler in Israel,

         whose coming forth is from of old,

                  from ancient days.

         And He shall stand and shepherd His flock

         in the strength of the LORD,

                 in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God.

         And they shall dwell secure, for now He shall be great

                 to the ends of the earth.[3]

For his part the great and powerful Caesar Augustus would have had no idea who that Christ Child was, no idea of who the carpenter Joseph or his wife the Virgin Mary were and even had Caesar Augustus known of them he would likely not have cared very much that some couple with child from Nazareth in Galilee in his Roman Province of Palestine were inconvenienced. Regardless of his ignorance to the fact Caesar Augustus certainly caused Joseph and the Virgin Mary inconveniences yet even in the midst of these inconveniences God was at work fulfilling His promises and providing for their needs. It is the love of God that sent forth Jesus, the Everlasting Light to be born into this world of sin, and in Christ Jesus[4] it is the love of God that cares for your meek soul in all the troubles of this life, and it’s the love of God that calls us to consider and care for the needs of others before our own, regardless of how well we know them, or even if we know them at all, as Jesus’ disciple Saint John would later write, “We love because He first loved us.”[5]

This Baby born in Bethlehem two millennia ago would grow into adulthood and say, “Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,”[6] and the rest Jesus promises is rest for the weary soul; rest for the troubled heart, and in The End eternal rest in Him. The same Old Testament passage that promised that He would be born in Bethlehem likewise promised that this Jesus would also be our peace.[7] And because He and the Father are one[8] we confess that Jesus is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,”[9] trusting that, “[His] steadfast love ... never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning,” such is the nature of His great faithfulness towards all people,[10] such is the nature of His great faithfulness unto you. For all his might the Roman Caesar, Caesar Augustus, could not truly promise any of this, nor deliver on such a promise and there are no political leaders today, no oligarchs, or captains of industry, or lab-coated scientific geniuses who could do any better. And so Scripture teaches us;

         Put not your trust in princes,

                 in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.

         When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;

                 on that very day his plans perish.[11]

Not so with this Baby born in Bethlehem, He is the Son you can trust, the Son in whom there is salvation, the Son whose plans did not perish in death but rose again from the dead, victorious.   

Let’s conclude our contemplation with some of those extraordinary, wonderful things, the kind of things that brightens your heart and bolsters your holiday cheer:

How was it that the Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph knew who the Child she carried in her womb was going to be? Did they hear it on the 6 O’clock news? Did it show up in something as mundane and boring as a social media feed? No as we heard they knew this Child would be the one to “save His people from their sins,” by way of angels sent from heaven.[12] Joseph was told this by an angel messenger in a dream while deeply troubled over the unorthodox manner of Jesus’ conception, and the young Virgin Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that her Child would “be great and [would] be called the Son of the Most High” [the angel told her that,] “the Lord God [would] give to Him the throne of His father David, and He [would] reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there [would] be no end.”[13]

This Baby’s birth in Bethlehem, which to the wider world of the time was rather insignificant would end up being extraordinary and Caesar Augustus, who claimed divinity in the magnificent city of Rome, in the end would turn out to be rather ordinary—all things considered Caesar was a fraud, Jesus was the real deal: As sure as death and taxes Caesar Augustus’ rule came to an end in the year 14AD and to this day he is dead and buried yet the Christ Child we celebrate today has defeated death and lives and reigns at the right hand of His heavenly Father with the Holy Spirit one God now and forever.

The general temptation we are constantly pulled into these days, which as it turns out is not uncommon and was a temptation in the days of Jesus’ birth, it to see the glamorous and successful things of this world as somehow better, more noble, even more true. We are tempted to see men like Caesar Augustus and idolize them. We expect the king to be born in Jerusalem or Rome but not in Bethlehem, to consider the silver spoon in the mouth of the baby Trump or Musk or Trudeau or Bezos as more significant than the Christ Child tenderly nursing from His mother’s breast. A splash of water, a sip of wine, a bit of bread, some words from a book, songs sung a thousand times what could such things offer when the World points at them and accuses them of all being so ordinary and old fashioned? God wraps extraordinary things in things the World deems common place, this is for the purpose of humility of faith and true trust in the gift and the giver of the gift. 

Remember the angels did not appear to Caesar Augustus in Rome the night that Jesus was born, they came to men who were counted as ordinary, to the mundane workers of the fields, the shepherds of Bethlehem. The Good News of Jesus’ birth came first to everyday folks, leading everyday lives and they were the ones who saw the Baby Jesus that night and they were the first to tell the story of everything they saw, as Saint Luke tells us “[the shepherds] made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child [from the Angels]. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” These ordinary men were the ones who shared a decree that didn’t come from Rome, a decree that wasn’t all Bah-Humbug-s and instruction for the proper registration for taxes; the Gloria-in-Excelsis-Deo-s they shared where a decree of peace wrapped in swaddling cloth and lying in a manger, the Good News of the promised Saviour at last come to save His people, and as we know the one who came not just for the people of Israel but for all people.            

And now this night the message has again come to you. Just as God the Father took advantage of the Roman decree “for all the world to be registered” to fulfil the promise concerning the birth of Jesus, the LORD likewise has taken advantage of many things in your life to bring you here this night. Even now we trust that the Holy Spirit calls, gathers and enlightens us all and keeps us in Christ Jesus.[14] Dear ones, if there ever be a time to have your faith in the person of Jesus Christ, now is that time. Saint Paul teaches us saying, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.”[15] You share the same faith as the shepherds, they were blessed to see Jesus in His humble estate the day of His birth, and we are blessed to see Him in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, and in His Word; They told of what they saw, the good news they received, and we now are free to do the same. Unlike them that night we know the rest of what happened, that this Baby was not just born for a sweet and tender moment but that as a man this Jesus would die for the sins of all people, that He would be buried and then on the third day rise again according to the scriptures.[16] While you struggle through the mess of contradictions that make up your life, that make up our World today, hold fast to this confession of faith and take heart: even in the most mundane and ordinary of moments the LORD gives you opportunity to share the Good News of His Extraordinary Son, watch for those moments and fear not Christ the LORD is with you. Amen.    

Let us pray:

Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] Flavius Josephus (Born 37 AD, Jerusalem - Died 100 AD, Rome).
[2] Selected Sermons of Normand Negel, From Valparaiso to St. Louis, Concordia Publishing House 2004, Pg 28.
[3] Micah 5:2,4; Matthew 2:6;
[4] John 3:16, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
[5] 1 John 4:19
[6] Matthew 11:28–29
[7] Micah 5:5
[8] John 10:30
[9] Psalm 103:8
[10] Lamentations 3:22–23
[11] Psalm 146:3–4
[12] Matthew 1:21
[13] Luke 1:32–33
[14] Creed the third article, Luther’s Small Catechism, Concordia Publishing House 2017, Pg 17.
[15] Romans 10:9–11
[16] Corinthians 15:3-4

Photo Credit: greater than less than photomontage, left side statue of the Vigin Mary and the Christ Child from pexels and the right side statue of Caesar Augustus from pxhere; detail of Taxes from pexels; detail of Virgin Mary with Child Stain Glass Window from pixabay; Nativity crèche from Pr. Ted Giese; detail of painting of the Annunciation from wikimedia commons; detail of statue of Angel with Cross from pexels; detail of low relief sculpture of Angel Choir from wikimedia commons; photomontage of speaker and listener, left side speaker from pexels and right side listener from pexels.