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Christmas Eve - Luke 2:1-20

According to the Pew Research Center, When the National Election Study began asking about trust in government in 1958, about three-quarters of Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing almost always or most of the time.

That number has since gone the way of Cody Bellinger's batting average.

Since 2007, the share saying they can trust the government always or most of the time has not surpassed 30%.

Compare the public reactions to the vaccines for Covid and polio, and you see the sea change:

now for most people, the government cannot be trusted.

Which means that now we have drawn closer to the Christmas story.

What we read as good news begins as bad news: a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.

Justo Gonzalez explains:

A census had sinister implications.

It was not just counting people in order to see how many they were, and what population trends were.

In ancient times, and long thereafter, a census was in fact an inventory of all the wealth of a region—its people, its animals, and its crops—so that the government would be able to tax people to the maximum.

A census usually announced greater poverty and exploitation.

It was as welcome among subjects of the Roman Empire as undocumented immigrants in industrialized nations would welcome a census today.

Which brings us to the shepherds, who lived in the fields, probably without a Real ID.

The census threatens a new danger, Gonzalez continues, a wolf more dangerous than any four-legged beast, a wolf that will probably decimate their flocks, and whom they cannot fight, for it is too powerful....

Suddenly there is a bright light, and an unknown person stands before them.

It is not surprising that they would be terrified....

One of the ways that "little people" manage to survive under oppressive regimes is not to call attention to themselves.

They seek to go on with their lives unnoticed by the powerful, who could easily crush them.

Now these shepherds are literally in the limelight, and an obviously powerful personage confronts them.

The voice, rumbling like thunder, shatters the silence: Do not be afraid.

I am bringing you good news of great joy.

A free vaccine?

A stimulus check?

What's the catch?

Emperors and other gods don't just show up passing out gifts to undocumented cowboys.

And for that matter, Messiahs aren't born in mangers.

The whole story is suspicious.

Maybe that's why we confine it to Christmas Eve and reduce it to a sweet, sentimental children's pageant that touches our hearts briefly before we move on and go back to business, tuning out our soft, naive hearts and returning to our realistic heads.

Christmas is too sus to trust, too untenable to let it last.

Christmas magic and kindness and cheer are unsustainable.

A power that empties itself into a conflicted couple's roadside baby, a God who loves us enough to be born one of us, is too Hallmark movie to believe.

Yet we are still reading and singing and telling and loving this story.

We yearn to get home for Christmas because something about Christmas feels like home;

somehow, in spite of our better judgment and sophistication, it rings true in the soul.

This child is good news of great joy.

Heaven comes not in fury and force but in makeshift diapers and peace.

God is born common, fragile, and fierce.

Because we cannot reach the divine, it finds and reaches us—which is initially terrifying.

But while the angels return to heaven, their boss does not.

He will stay and sleep and wake and eat and poop and cry and laugh and grow.</