A sermon by Rev. Dr. Thom bower
For December 13, 2015, Third Sunday n Advent
By order of his imperial majesty
All the world is to be taxed.
Please look at the following questions and discuss your answers with your neighbors. They intend to help you prepare for the census which will register people for taxation purposes.
You, or the head of your household, will be required to walk to the place of your birth.
a) Where is that place.
b) How long will it take you to travel on foot?
c) Where will you be accommodated if the census registration involves a day or two of questioning?
These verses from Isaiah are familiar to us from Handel’s messiah. Early Christians used them as a forecast from their past to explain the Jesus they knew. Modern scholars understand this to have been written in a time of war, looking forward to a godly-king who would rule in a time of no war.
6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Prince of Peace.
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.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
From the anticipation of a godly king in Isaiah we now turn to Luke’s gospel who tries to place the life of Jesus into his congregation’s recent history. Even though few of the details Luke uses can be verified outside the bible, the truth of the story is found in that God entered human events as a newborn child, and God continues to enter the events of our lives.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 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.
I need you to use the imagination of your body. I need you to call upon muscle memory. And I need you to imagine what certain things would feel like to your body.
Mary and Joseph were going to have a baby. They were so excited. How do you look when you are excited? What kinds of things does your body do when you are excited?
Sometimes when I get excited I can feel my body shake. I notice it most in my fingers as they tremble. Sometimes when I get excited I also get nervous; when that happens my stomach feels like it becoming like water, hot water bubbling and gurgling. But at the same time my shoulders can tighten up like a piece of ice, so I end up feeling hot and cold at the same time.
Mary loved the feeling of her baby growing inside her. Every day she would sit outside in the warm sun and feel her baby moving inside. “I must go and tell my cousin Elizabeth,” Mary said. “Elizabeth is going to have a baby, too. There is so much we can talk about.” And so, Mary walked all the way to Elizabeth’s village.
How do you think Mary felt as she walked? It was a long walk but Mary was used to taking long walks. (People probably walked 10 miles a day just for normal work). All the same, she was pregnant. Even though this was just the first weeks of her pregnancy, her body was changing.
I wonder: what was her mood as she walked? Was Mary running away from people who would criticize her for being pregnant even though she was not yet married? Was she happy to be going to a relatives house who would accept her no matter what, who would share in Mary’s happiness in getting ready to become a mother – and Mary’s uncertainty of being a mother?
When Mary arrived, she called Elizabeth’s name. And the baby in Elizabeth’s belly jumped. I’ve never been pregnant, so I don’t know what this feels like. Is there a woman who has had a baby? Can you describe how it feels when a baby kicks or jumps?
Soon it was time for Mary to say goodbye to Elizabeth and return home. How do you think these cousins felt as they hugged one another goodbye?
Not long after, Mary and Joseph had to take a trip together. They had to go to Bethlehem. It is about 70 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It would be a long, hard walk because there were no cars or trains or airplanes. How long do you think it would take you to walk 70 miles?
(When I was in high school I walked everywhere. I did not have a bicycle so walking was my main form of transportation – to school, to church, to work, to my parent’s business. At that time I would walk a mile in just under 20 minutes – so let’s say 3 miles an hour. At that pace, it would take almost 24 hours of walking to get from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Even in my youth I could not do 24 hours of continuous walking, so there would need to be breaks.)
Imagine being pregnant, ready to deliver a baby any day, any hour, any minute. How do you think Mary felt on that trip?
When they were tired and hungry, Mary and Joseph stopped to eat some of the food they carried with them. Sometimes, they would find a place to sit where Mary could rest, but soon they would have to continue on. It was such a long journey.
How many of you went downtown this year to look at the Christmas decorations in store windows? How many of you shopped at a busy mall? How many of you stood in line at a store to pay for something you were going to buy? Think for a moment how it feels to be in a big crowd of people.
When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, the city was already crowded. There were people everywhere! There were young people and old people, rich people and poor people. There was such a crowd: it was noisy, and people were pushing and shoving. Mary felt frightened. And what’s more, she knew she was going to have her baby very soon. They needed to find a place to stay.
You know the story: there was no room. Everywhere they looked, all the beds were filled. Mary and Joseph had nowhere to stay until finally someone said they could sleep in a stable with the animals. How would you feel if the only place for you to stay was a stable, or a garage? How do you think Mary and Joseph felt as they settled in to sleep?
Mary and Joseph spent the night on the stable floor covered with straw. Imagine what it feels like to lay on a bed of straw. What does your body feel? Straw is kind of funny: it can be really prickly but if it is dry it can also be very warm. Most people who use straw as their mattress usually lay down a thick blanket on top of the straw to stop it from being prickly.
Imagine that you are wrapped in a soft blanket. Feel yourself being warmed by the blanket. That night baby Jesus was born. Mary wrapped him up in a soft blanket. Mary wanted Jesus to feel safe and warm. Where could Mary and Joseph put their special new baby to sleep? There was no cradle or crib, but the animals’ manger was just the right size. Joseph put some clean straw in the manger and gently laid Jesus there to sleep.
As Jesus slept, Mary and Joseph thanked God for this special baby. And as they prayed, they felt God’s love inside them and all around them. They knew it was a special time!