WHAT CHILD IS THIS? Isaiah 9:2,6-7
Meditation: This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing. Haste, haste to bring Him laud, the Babe, the Son of Mary.
We have amazing minds. In our minds, we can take 2 or 3 completely different stories, and read them, and put them into our memories as one long, continuous narrative. We’re really good at it! Just look at what we do to the Christmas stories. There are 3 of them, each written for a different audience and a different purpose.
There is the story of Jesus’ birth in the Gospel of Luke.You know in your Christmas memory how Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth, but there was this big census, and they had to travel to Bethlehem to be counted. When they got there, Mary was going into labor, and so frantic Joseph was trying to find a place for them to stay. But the only place that was offered was a manger in a cave. We say “stable”, but people in that area often used caves as their stables. And so there was poor little Jesus being born in a cave surrounded by smelly barn animals. Remember that?
And then the poor shepherds with their flocks by night heard angels crying out to them saying, “Glory to God in the Highest!” and telling them where they could find the baby Jesus. For Luke, the most important thing that God has done through Jesus is to reach out to the poor and the outcast.
And what happens when Luke tells the story of Jesus being born? The first people who hear the good news are the poorest people around, the shepherds who don’t even have a place to lay their heads. They sleep in the wilderness with their animals. They are not fit for civilized society. But it is to these homeless people that God first shares the good news of hope. And Luke is so intent on having Jesus be accessible to the poor that Jesus Himself is born in poverty, sleeping with animals just like the shepherds do. If Jesus had been born in a royal court, those shepherds could never have gotten close to Him. But for Luke, that’s the whole point: God coming in to the lives of the poor and vulnerable.
Now, when we read the Gospel of Matthew, Mary and Joseph don’t live in Nazareth; they have their own home in Bethlehem. Jesus isn’t born in a stable; he’s born at home. And there are no shepherds.
Instead, there are wise ones who travel from far away because they have seen a star which portends the birth of a great person. And there is a frighteningly violent king, Herod, who is terrified of losing his power and will do anything to secure his place. And so when these wise ones come looking for someone who was just born to be king of the Jews, Herod goes crazy. And he kills all the baby boys under the age of 2 to try to get rid of this pretender to his throne.
In Matthew, Mary and Joseph are told in a dream that they have to escape, so they sneak away just before the slaughter starts, and make their way to Egypt. And when Herod finally dies, they don’t want to go back to their home in Bethlehem,so they go to Nazareth to make a new home. It’s a different story from the one in Luke. Nothing is the same, except Mary, Jesus and Joseph.
The Gospel of John doesn’t have any Christmas story at all- just the haunting words: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…that Jesus was with God in the beginning before the world was ever made; that Jesus is the Light of the World, who helped create the world, who is the hope of the world. There’s no baby Jesus, no Mary, no Joseph. Just… God.
And just to round it out, the Gospel of Mark never mentions anything about Jesus before He was baptized at the age of 30. Christmas doesn’t exist in Mark; and for that matter, neither does Bethlehem or Joseph. And Mary is only mentioned 4 times in passing.
Three completely different Christmas stories. But in our minds, we have woven them all together into one seamless story where Mary and Joseph travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem (Luke), and Jesus is born in a stable because there was no room for them in the inn (Luke), and shepherds and angels come (Luke), and then the Wise Ones follow a star to Bethlehem (Matthew), and then King Herod goes on a rampage and force Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus to flee to Egypt (Mt).And they end up in Nazareth, where Jesus is raised. (Matthew & Luke)And He is the Light of the World. (John)
Now, which of the 3 gospel writers got the facts straight? What parts of these stories actually happened, or did any of this story ever even happen?
You can cut the story of Jesus’ birth out of the gospels and never even notice it is gone; none of the elements are ever mentioned anywhere else in the whole New Testament: not in the gospels, not in any of the letters of Paul or Peter. And there are curious facts surrounding the writing of the Christmas stories.
The most curious thing I find is the parallel between Jesus and Augustus Caesar, the emperor of Rome.
Caesar was said to be divine, conceived by the god Apollo through a mortal mother. Jesus was said to be conceived by God through the Holy Spirit and a mortal mother, Mary.…Caesar was called “The Son of God,” “The Prince of Peace,” “The Savior of the World.” So was Jesus. …The births of both Caesar and Jesus were both announced by a star… and an inscription on a tablet from 9AD reads, “The birthday of the god (Caesar) marked the beginning of the gospel- the good news- for the world.” That sounds like what the angels said at Jesus’ birth in Luke: “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all the world.”…And to top it off, when people worshiped Caesar, they said, “Caesar is Lord.” And the first proclamation of the early church was “Jesus is Lord.”
Now, Caesar Augustus was born 60 years before Jesus. He was the emperor of Rome when Jesus was born,
and remained the emperor until he died when Jesus was about 20. Caesar was called the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, and the Savior of the World long before Jesus was born. So why are Matt and Luke using the same words and stories about Jesus to start out their accounts of His life?
What they are doing is setting Jesus up as the true Savior of the world. From the very beginning of Jesus’ life, the gospel writers are setting up Jesus to go head to head with the Roman Empire, and everything that stands for: Power, Wealth. World Domination. The Oppression of the Poor.
Is Caesar the Prince of Peace? No! Jesus is! Is Caesar the Savior of the World? No! Jesus is! Is Caesar the Son of God? No! Jesus is!
You know, people who get all tied up about whether Mary was a virgin, or if Joseph was His real or adopted father, or if the star actually appeared… they’ve got it all wrong. Those are just trappings around a story whose purpose, whose message, whose truth is that JESUS IS LORD, NOT CAESAR! And the world will never be saved through violence, power and domination.
That’s the truth of the Christmas story; that’s the truth of Jesus’ later ministry; that’s the truth of His death and resurrection. Power, wealth, domination and empire are not the be all and the end all; God is.
And the center of the world is found in the vulnerable body of the poor, whether that body is child in a manger, an itinerant preacher, or a half-naked man on a cross. And in the end, it is compassion, justice and love which shall rule the world, not power, wealth and empire.
30 years later, when Jesus is going head to head with Rome, it is this which will get Jesus killed. Because He preached that Rome is not the Kingdom of God. Rome is not the greatest power on earth. And His disciples would preach that it is Jesus who is Lord, not Caesar.
And so when we sing that song, What Child Is This, the answer to that question is simple. What child is this? This Child is the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, the Savior of the World.
This Child is my Lord.
In the Name of the One who came that He might never let us go, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
SCRIPTURE FOR JAN. 1, 2017 Megan Alaimo
ISAIAH 9:2, 6-7
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…
For a Child has been born for us, a son given to us.
Authority rests upon His shoulders, and His name shall be called
Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace in His kingdom.
This Son will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness,
from this day on and forever more.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this..
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.
r let us go, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.