And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. Caesar Augustus was quite a guy. “Rome achieved great glory under Augustus. He restored peace after 100 years of civil war; [he] maintained an honest government and a sound currency system; extended the highway system connecting Rome with its far-flung empire; [he] developed an efficient postal service; fostered free trade among the provinces; and built many bridges, aqueducts and buildings adorned with beautiful works of art created in the classical style. Literature flourished with writers including Virgil, Horace, Ovid, and Livy all living under the emperor’s patronage. The empire expanded under Augustus with his generals subduing Spain, Gaul (now France)…. He annexed Egypt and most of southwestern Europe up to the Danube River. After his death, the people the Roman Empire worshipped Augustus as a god.” This is the world into which Jesus was born: efficient, creative, and peaceful. That is, if you ignored the crosses.
Our children, the children of Christ Church, entered into that world last week; our children laid out for us, right in this space, the tremendous amount of information St. Luke gives us in the Gospel we just heard. In twenty short verses our children acted out the roles of a Mother, a foster-father, a Child and His place of birth; our children showed us the stable below the occupied inn and the strange star that hovered over it. They showed us the shepherds and the animals, the angels and the signs and the wonders. They showed us the one of the holiest moments in the history of man.
That holy moment, that first time mankind set eyes on the fullness of God, was famously ordinary. The traveling couple were not outwardly special. The stable full of smelly animals was definitely not special. Giving birth to a baby is always special, at least after the labor is accomplished, but there was nothing particularly special about the operation of bearing that holy Child. The visitors that evening were dirty, disreputable, and had recently ditched their jobs to go look for something they claimed angels told them about. Looking on that scene you would thing it all so ordinary, almost classless; that is, unless you pondered all these things in your heart.
What do you think when you hear the story of the Christmas? What do you see when you look into that stable? No one would blame you if you see nothing more than a poor couple and their baby. But what if you ponder this scene in your heart? Would you then want to reach out to that young family, would you find it in your heart to bring them blankets and something warm to drink? Would you see that poor family and spare a few bucks or your extra coat or that blanket that sits in the hallway closet all but useless? Can you look around now with the eyes of your heart and those families with nowhere to lay their heads, the children in rags, the fathers ashamed of their lot, the mothers pondering in their hearts what will become of their children? Can you see them? God does. And not only does God see them, but God has been there with them; His only Son was born in the ancient equivalent of a highway overpass, He was cradled in the arms of a Mother who had nothing but her trust in God and a heart big enough to ponder holy things. And yet, even still, this was one of the holiest moments in the history of man, the angels still sang and the star stayed bright, the signs and the wonders still played herald to the coming of the Christ.
And here we are, witnessing another one of the holiest moments in the history of man. You see, the wonders never cease. The great thing about Jesus is that the signs and wonders that announced His birth to the world have never stopped coming, because Jesus never stops coming to us. The seemingly ordinary things of this world become extraordinary, even holy. A manger can become a throne and a stable a sanctuary; sheep can become a choir, shepherds can become heralds of the Son of the Living God, and a Cross can become the means to everlasting life. And because the wonders never cease, a little disc of bread and a cup of wine can become the very Body and Blood of Christ, the lifeblood of God given to us literally on a silver platter. What will you do with these wonders? Will you allow allow your heart to ponder them? Will you allow those wonders to let you see everyone around you, even those you would rather ignore, will you let yourself see them through the eyes of God? Will you let those wonders, will you let Jesus, change you? My prayer for us this Christmas that we will look again into that stable and so ponder that holy scene in our hearts, that the ordinary may become to us extraordinary, even holy, and that our hearts may be full of the wonders of God. Merry Christmas.