Dear Christ Church Family,
The Christmas story isn’t just some sentimental heart-warming tale we tell children; on the contrary, Christmas is about Jesus coming to confront, challenge, renew and restore. Jesus comes as a “fighter”.
C.S. Lewis, the great Anglican apologist of the last century, said that Jesus came quietly in Bethlehem because he meant to “slip clandestinely behind enemy lines”.
The story opens by mentioning the two most powerful people of the day – when Augustus was Emperor and Quirinius was Governor of Syria - then moves to focus on two others; Mary and Joseph journeying to Bethlehem. Christmas contrasts two empires – that of Rome and of God - with contrasting characters, motivations and actions.
Jesus was born in the city of David, in a stable place with animals all around him. What a picture of powerlessness and vulnerability.
Who was the most powerful person in the ancient world? Who was best protected? The best fed? Who had apparent control? Emperor Augustus of course. But, the birth of Jesus shows a different kind of King reigning over a different kind of Kingdom. Jesus, the true King, came among us as vulnerable and weak, all wrapped up and defenceless.
Augustus would have had anything he desired: the best comforts and the best food. Jesus came as one who gave up such comfort and preferment and became food for the Word - placed in a feeding trough, in a manger, where animals eat.
We are all told how angels appeared to the shepherds on the hills around Bethlehem. It’s too easy to think of angels as cute, plump and non-threatening. But the Bible gives a different picture, because whenever angels appeared in scripture, people were terrified and the shepherds were no exception!
The angels appeared to the shepherds en-masse. What is often translated as “heavenly host” is actually in the Greek stratias which literally means “army” (from which we get the word “strategy” or “strategic”). This angelic army is more powerful than any of Caesar’s, since our true king fights with the weapons of justice, mercy and love with the courage and conviction of non-violence.
The prophet Isaiah wrote that when the Messiah would come it would be like God “bearing his arm and rolling up his sleeve”. The holy arm of Yahweh is the arm of the baby Jesus wrapped in a manger. Who would expect the power of God to come like that?
The battle which began in the manger came to its fulfilment on the Cross where our true king decisively and definitively engaged the forces of darkness; confronting and defeating the power of evil, sin and even death itself.
Jesus took on our human flesh and felt our pain. He laid Himself in a manger in humility. He lived and died as one of us, confronting the power of sin and disarming it forever.
Jesus promises to be our King and to give all who will accept him, life in all its fullness.
"O holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us, we pray!
Cast out our sin and enter in. Be born to us today!
We hear the Christmas angels, The great glad tidings tell:
“O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel”!
The Rev’d Canon Dr Byron Gilmore, Rector