When you combine two Greek words, meaning all and people, you get the word pandemic.
It means bad news for all the people.
The current pandemic is wreaking holiday havoc, especially here in Southern California, separating loved ones, shuttering businesses, stealing lives, and leaving countless souls on the edge of eviction and/or a trip to the emergency room fearing there will be no room for them in the inn.
If you don't want to hear about this on Christmas Eve, don't listen to the gospel.
Brutal reality, Luke says, is exactly where Christmas happens.
The government ordered a registration, or as the old King James Version put it—trust a king to know why—that all the world should be taxed.
This was the first, Luke writes, meaning it won't be the last.
Big Brother feels the need to keep tabs on you so that he gets his checks, not to mention
the reassuring satisfaction of exercising power over people's lives.
So Joseph had to haul his exceedingly pregnant fiancee back to his hometown to sign up for his patriotic duty to the empire that took over his country.
Travel was dangerous, but the emperor didn't care, so off they went with no vaccine or security measures—so many things could have gone wrong before they even reached Bethlehem to give birth God knows where.
In different ways, the other gospels also cast Christmas in darkness and danger.
John writes of rejection and cryptically, tellingly notes: the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.
Matthew explicitly recounts Herod headhunting baby Jesus and slaughtering infants throughout Bethlehem in a heartless, desperate grasp to protect his power.
Winter solstice makes sense, because darkness is the setting for this story.
Scary, brutal reality is where Christmas happens.
Apologies to anyone who tuned into tonight's worship to escape into sweet, sentimental fluff, but Christmas is better than that.
Christmas is the tenacious, triumphant outbreak of love and hope in a cold, cruel world.
Stories of emperors and tyrants fade forgotten, but we are still reading Luke's words and
somehow the strange scene at the manger and the music of the angels still break through our steel defenses and lodge into our hearts.
Outside of town, where unregistered shepherds with no mailing address were guarding what little they had, God's angels arrived like the feds making a raid and burst into song:
A child is born.
It means good news for all the people.
But the angels don't say demo, as in pandemic or demographics.
They say lao, as in laity, common folk.
This good news is not for populations; its for people.
Its not for the general populace, but for specific lives, especially those who are
overlooked, like shepherds out in the fields, including the baby's greatest grandfather— the only son Jesse didn't call inside to meet the prophet, the runt of the family who didn't register, the little shepherd boy, David the new king.
Christmas happens in his dog-eared story, on dangerous roads, in distant fields, and in the barn out back.
It happens away from the cameras, out of the spotlight, where few think to look.
It happens under the thumb of heartless political power and wiggles free of it, because
God is a virus that the authorities can't contain or control.
Christmas stealthily, silently, miraculously invades the world and infects it with peace, with
goodwill, with hope.
Scour the headlines and the hallways of power for resilient love—you might not find it.
Now look into the eyes of a heroic nurse, a helpful neighbor, a weary mother.
Even in 2020, especially in 2020, good news and great joy are alive and well.