Preacher: Nathan Hosler
Scripture Readings: Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)
In Isaiah we hear of the arrival of God’s saving action in the world. It is of a light coming to those who have been in darkness. There is great rejoicing from a people that have been multiplied. There are two similes used. One that is almost familiar and one that (I assume) isn’t:
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
Jenn grows things. We harvest them. I really like going to our tiny garden and picking a bright orange habanero or variegated fish pepper to put directly into whatever I’m cooking. I like picking bay leaves from our little bay leaf shrub and then drying them for use later (they can’t be used fresh). I may even rejoice in this. This is, however, rejoicing-lite. While the appreciation is deep—linked to the wonder that the ground can produce the smoky fire of the pepper and the pungent sage and lavender for lemonade, appreciation that God creates and sustains creation in this way, joy that what we call a habanero or scotch bonnet Jenn and I first learned of as atarko with our church family in rural Nigeria on the border of Cameroon near the bottom edge of the Sahel semi-arid band south of the Sahara desert—that I rejoice in all of this is not the same as the rejoicing at the harvest of people who rely on the harvest for not only their livelihoods but also their very survival. Such rejoicing is deep. Tied closely to the desperate desire that comes with living close to the edge of survival.
They “rejoice as at the harvest” and “as people exult at dividing plunder.” This great relief of victory and joy at gathering of provision is heightened, is amplified because of the oppression that has been endured. It is a shaking free:
4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken ….
It is also the end of the battle. The reminders of this battle—the tramping boots and blood soaked clothing—these will be burned. This is the joy of the coming of the savior, the great light. The objective need for saving is recognized, felt deep in the bones.
Luke sets the birth of Jesus within the political context. While it appears that Luke is trying to make the case that Jesus is not a political threat—at least not a conventional political and
military threat to the conventional powers—the radically challenging nature of baby Jesus’s arrival continues to challenge us.
Luke orients Jesus’s arrival within a political context. This registration was not benign nor appreciated. (Craddock and Boring) It was an assertion of power and control by an occupying force. Mary and Joseph were caught up in it. Even while in late pregnancy they made the trip south to his hometown. This was certainly inconvenient and likely uncomfortable (perhaps she liked the challenge—Jenn for example climbed Table Mountain at 7 months pregnant and kayaked on the Anacostia for two hours the day she went into labor)
Perhaps it was the bumping of riding on a donkey or walking that got the labor happening, for once to Bethlehem the baby arrived. It is stated simply.
6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.
7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In any retelling—whether literary, movie, or by a campfire—significant events are compacted or not even referenced. The choice of what to minimize or eliminate is a specific choice or may be a result of particular interests or biases of the teller. In this case, a feminist commentator might note that a male writer would be expected not to focus much on the heroic feat of a woman. To deliver a child is not like having an Amazon package delivered (a house near us has a little cardboard sign by the front door. “Please drop any packages over the fence” with a little arrow pointing to a wooden fence a few feet to the left).
However, since the important thing is that Jesus gets here it is of some note that this is mentioned at all. A commentator notes 1/3 of the unique material in Luke focuses on women. And the full Luke account of the birth has a much stronger emphasis on the particular roles of women in this event—for example in the manner of the announcements of the birth and songs before the birth (Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels). Additionally, the Gospel of Mark starts with Jesus as an adult, Matthew only mentions “had been borne” in relation to Mary and Joseph not having sex until after Jesus had been borne–highlighting the divine conception, and John has no traditional narrative but rather a soaring theological reflection on Jesus’ participation in the creation of the world and then arrival into the world to be with the created ones.
Additionally, while the divine nature of the conception is noted earlier, it is not focused on. There were many such stories of divine arrival in that era. What is notable is that the Messiah, the savior, is born at all. (Craddock and Boring). No descending from heaven ready to go. The great light that is announced by Isaiah enters the world and sees the dimly lit stable for the first time. In some fantastic way, the Word which was from the beginning and who was present at
the creation of the world and through whom the world with its sources of light was created—as proclaimed in the opening of the Gospel of John—somehow, this awaited great light, who was the creator of light, descends the dark and crushing birth canal of Mary and sees light for the first time. This is the great mystery. The mystery of Emmanuel—God with us. This is the great light that has been awaited this is what will cause rejoicing as at the harvest.
This is the victory of God. The victory of God shows up with a young family forced to leave their home and who are given no place to stay.
6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
And not only does the victory of God show up in the unexpected manner of a displaced person but the first announcement is to the shepherds—a class looked down on, distrusted, and also unexpected. No high-end PR firms. No world-renowned poet or preacher. The shepherds are the first evangelists, the first announcers of the coming hope and light. The Messiah, the awaited savior.
. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 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: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
Isaiah had said: 7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.
For the grace of God has appeared (Titus)
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. (Isaiah)
The sermon title–“Let your face shine” has some linguistic flexibility. If you include the parenthetical “(on us)” it may be that we are beseeching God to let the light of God radiate on to us. And if we were mimicking the language of the Psalms this is a plea for God’s blessings. It could also be an exhortation—almost an ethical-spiritual exhortation about how we should live. You now have experienced the light of Christ let your face shine! The one who created the light then entered into the light. This same light shone when the angels proclaimed to the shepherds that the great awaited light was now shining in the face of a baby in Bethlehem. This is the same light that we are invited to shine. Let your face shine!