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Thursday, December 24, 2015


All the signs of this story have told us for two millennia the kind of rule God intends to establish on this earth: a rule that is won heart by heart, in the most powerless places, until life is full and abundant for all.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord
   texts:  Luke 2:1-20; 1 Corinthians 1:20-30 (not appointed for the day)

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

We should have known. We could have known.

It was always Bethlehem, not Jerusalem.

There was a lot of confusion about it then. Ever since, the Church has often remained confused.
In Jerusalem, in the seat of power, the great Herod fretted over news that another king was born. No divine announcement was made to him, though. In Rome, not even the Emperor knew anything was happening.

But on a hillside outside a tiny little town in the Judean wilderness, bright messengers of the One True God announced to outsiders that a child was born who was the Anointed One, who would rule the world in peace, peace for all, not just a few.

It was never going to be Jerusalem where God would rule.

We just seem to forget that we know this.

Maybe because the Jerusalems, the Romes, the Washingtons, seem to run our world.

They always have. People with power oppress and dominate others to get what they want. The world has worked this way for so long, it’s not surprising this way of the true God gets missed or ignored, even by those of us who claim to follow this Child, this Son of the Most High God.

People like the trains to run on time. We like to be comfortable, not messy. We like order, not chaos. We want to feel safe, and that means people in every generation are willing to let whoever’s running the world run their lives. As long as we think we’re OK, don’t ask too many questions.

Systems get built over decades and centuries that keep the majority of the world’s people in poverty and suffering while a small number prosper. Policies disguised as progress destroy the environment in just over a century, and again, the ones whom it costs most are those already suffering. Colonialism is replaced by capitalism, and those in power remain the same, they just rule in subtler ways than Herod or the British Empire. Demagogues rise in every generation who incite the poor and struggling by giving them someone to hate, someone to blame for their problems, while acting in ways that only exacerbate those problems.

If this Child is the way God is coming to rule this world, it’s hard to see how.

But if we’d been paying attention, we could have known.

From the beginning, it was Bethlehem, not Jerusalem, where God would rule.

It’s interesting, Micah’s prophecy of Bethlehem tells the truth: Bethlehem is one of the little clans of Judah, but from that smallness will come God’s ruler. Matthew seems influenced by the world’s ways and edits that, says Bethlehem is “by no means” the least. Bethlehem actually was small and insignificant, though. That’s the point.

The world’s seats of power, where people run the show, are ignored when God comes to rule.

God comes to a small town, overlooked by the world, and is born among us. The people who come and see are the small people, the ordinary.

This is where the King still truly lives. That’s where we will be, too, if we want to follow.

From the beginning, it was in poverty, not in wealth, in weakness, not in power, that God would rule.

This family from Nazareth is unremarkable. Like the majority of the world’s peoples, they lived day to day, as best they could, in deeply insecure lives, always on the edge of hunger.

The wealthy have built a world that protects their wealth. It’s taken centuries, but the system is running powerfully these days. The wealthy think they’re in charge, and since we’re also among them, sometimes we think the same. We might consider letting go of a little for others. But somehow we never quite do the overthrow it would take to make all people be able to live.

But God chooses the poor, the weak, as the place of coming. God wants nothing to do with people of wealth, who think they control, who won’t let go of what they have while others starve.

The true King is born to a family who has no influence or control, no wealth or power. That’s where we will be, too, if we want to follow.

From the beginning, it was in a refugee family relying on the kindness of strangers, not in secure people, that God would come to save.

This little family is pushed around by foreign powers just before the birth of the child, and treks to Bethlehem. Just after the birth, their own ruler wants the child dead, so they become refugees, fleeing to another country. They are homeless, like so many.

While those in charge rail against such people as a threat, from Herod to today, this is the way God chooses to come to us. To identify with the outsider, the alien, the refugee, and become one.

The true King willingly leaves the refuge of heavenly power, lives as a refugee from earthly power, dies at the hands of earthly power, to show the truth about power, that it’s a lie, and destructive, and death. This is the King’s path, and ours, if we want to follow.

The Triune God reigns in this world upside-down, always.

Looking for where God will reign means looking to the weak, the vulnerable, the lost, the poor. That’s who God became to be our King. That’s where God continues to be, at Bethlehem, not the seats of power.

God’s whole plan of rule is to win over our hearts by coming among us as the least, and showing us that identifying with the least and the last is the way of life for the universe, and for us. When we give our hearts to such a God, such a King, we follow the same path of vulnerability and weakness for the sake of the world. The path that the Herods of today mock as one for losers.

But when we follow such a King, such a God, with all our hearts, the reign of God actually comes to be in this world.

We have known this from the beginning, if we have sometimes forgotten.

One of our brothers in faith told us long ago that people demand signs and wisdom, “but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are.”

God has chosen, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save the world.

A Lutheran theologian in this country recently wrote:

“In this sacred space, on [the] holy ground [of this world], God’s kingdom is realized on earth as in heaven when our hope for a contrary way sends us stumbling, falling towards goodness; we make our haphazard and unsure way through the darkness of human reality towards something hoped for, naively and bravely, in a world which desperately needs more courageous, outrageous love and kindness. . . . Our lives, though they feel small, have the power to change and heal our world, in all our imperfect stumblings through the expansive darkness.” [1]

Our lives, though they feel small, have the power to change and heal our world, in all our imperfect stumblings through the expansive darkness.

Because however small our lives may feel, it’s always to Bethlehem we stumble with the shepherds to see the true King, who became small to save us all.

God only works with the imperfect, the poor, the frail, the haphazard, the unsure, and from there brings life. We could have known this all along; it was always there in this story.

God only reigns in this world as one who wins our hearts by coming to us in all the unexpected and powerless places of the world. One at a time, as people give their hearts to this upside-down King, this ruler of stables and refugees, the world is changed, and we find hope. We could have known this all along, too; our King rules from a cross.

It’s always at Bethlehem, not Jerusalem, where we find the Lord, the King. In small, not great. And slowly, surely, God’s healing life spreads from there to all people.

Because to you, to all, is born this day a Savior who is the Christ, the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find God a little child, lying in a manger.

Go, look for Bethlehem. You’ll see.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

[1] Rachel A. Crippen, unpublished paper, Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota; December 2015.

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