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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.

He will learn and teach and heal and confuse and confront and weep and bleed and die.

Even when we kill him he doesn't stay dead, because Christmas is God's wedding vow, saying yes to creation eternally and always, no matter what.

It doesn't end in Bethlehem or late December.

The unlikely union of heaven and earth radiates forward through forever.

Dare we trust that?

Dare we believe enough to receive and to live this good news more than once a year?

If every day were Christmas, would we appreciate

the holy hope and wonder for which we strain and wait?

If every day were Christmas, the sun would always rise

to warm the earth with promise enough to light our eyes.

If every day were Christmas, we'd search from tree to ground

and discover Someone came to scatter gifts around.

If every day were Christmas, we'd listen to our dreams,

their wisdom and their warnings about power and its schemes,

where numbers outweigh people and households get displaced

as soldiers rattle sabers and frightened feet make haste.

If every day were Christmas, then situations torn

by poverty and worry would see a baby born.

If every day were Christmas, then God would be too real,

not distant speculation but tears and skin we feel.

We'd honor earth like heaven and spare our biosphere,

since Christmas faith would teach us that heaven's coming here.

If every day were Christmas, then lifestyles would collide:

angels, rednecks, refugees, and cattle side by side,

until our lines would blur so faint that anyone we see

we'd welcome as invited and love as family.

If every day were Christmas, creation might explode,

too frail to hold such glory unless we shared the load.

If every day were Christmas, but other things were planned,

the leaders and the people would fail to understand

that God is so determined to love and save this place

that every day is Christmas, and every morning grace.

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