Christmas day 2010
(before start, have one person lying on floor, and two people standing on chairs)
I would like to introduce you to two people: who is the greatest?
1. CAESAR AUGUSTUS
He was a very powerful man. In fact he appeared to be the most powerful person alive on the planet at the time.
(place robe and crown on Caesar)
He was fabulously wealthy
He lived in the most amazing palaces
Behind him, he had the Roman army
Caesar Augustus had the ability to count and record every single person who lived in his empire. Did you notice in our reading: ‘a census should be taken of the entire Roman world’? That is some power.
When he spoke, people jumped: It was because he issued an edict in
Rome, that Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem
If you did what he said, then he could give you wealth, entertainment and security
If you did not do what he said ..
His parents were Jewish peasants, and there were rumours of scandal about his birth
He was born in a cowshed, wrapped in strips of linen, and laid in a manger
Before he was 2, he was a political refugee. His parents had had to flee to
He was brought up as a carpenter, and for three years worked as a religious teacher
At the age of 33 he was executed as a common criminal
He was not wealthy
He did not live in a palace
He had no Roman army behind him
You did what he said not because he could reward you here if you did, or because he could punish you if you didn’t. You listened to what he said and if you did it, you did it because you chose to do so.
It’s a no brainer.
The angels say to the shepherds: ‘For unto you is born this day in the city of
a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger’. They are echoing what the angel has said earlier to Mary, ‘He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High .. and he will reign .. of his kingdom there will be no end’ ( David Luke 1:32f)
If you listen to what God says about this man; if you believe what God says about Jesus, then you realise that there is simply no comparison.
Jesus has more power in the clippings of his little fingernail than Caesar Augustus, or all the rulers of this world put together, ever had.
Jesus is the one who was from eternity. He existed before time began. Everything that existed and exists and will exist comes from him, belongs to him and will return to him.
Caesar can count every person in his empire. They are his subjects. But Jesus Christ knows every person, and would be to them their friend and brother.
At Jesus’ call are millions and millions of angels. One of their bands turn up on the night that he was born
The sort of wealth and joy and security that he gives are things that nobody, not even death, can take away.
He is not just the creator of life, like some amazing boffin in a laboratory playing around with DNA. He is life itself, and he can give us eternal life.
Jesus is the one to whom Caesar Augustus or Napoleon or Mao or any ruler will one day have to acknowledge is the true ruler. They will need to say, ‘I was there because of you – and I did not recognise you’.
(take robe and crown from Caesar and place on Jesus)
Jesus said that he will judge each person. In fact, he said that we will judge ourselves by how we react to him.
Because we have here – in Caesar or Jesus - two models of how we can live.
We can live – what today I will call – the palace model.
We follow Caesar. We strive for the things of this world: wealth, power, influence, entertainment, security for the here and now.
But if we choose to follow Caesar, we have shown that we are deaf to what God says about Jesus, and we are blind to the sign of God. We have judged ourselves and we have shown that we are dead.
Or we can believe what God says about this child – through the prophets, through the angels, through the people who were there at the time, through the people who have trusted him - and live the manger model.
Because what makes Jesus so astonishing is that:
even though he does have all power, he let it go.
even though all things belong to him, he let it go.
even though he is life itself, he let it go.
(Jesus gets down from chair and goes to the person lying on the floor)
He humbled himself to become a human baby laid in a manger – in order to identify himself with us in our brokenness. He stripped off his celestial robes in order to be wrapped in strips of linen
We exalted ourselves, we tried to become God and fell. And yet for our sake, out of love, He humbled himself in order to save the proud. He lowered himself and knelt down in order to lift us up.
(Jesus lifts up the person lying on the floor, takes off his robe and crown and places it on the person)
He came to be our Saviour: so that – for all who receive him - we might become what he is.
The passage dates the birth of Jesus by reference to Caesar Augustus and his census.
Today, we date Caesar Augustus by reference to the birth of Jesus Christ.
And today millions of people bow to Jesus, and call him Lord.
They do so because they listen to what God has said about him;
They do so, because they have seen the sign – not a sword, not a pound note, not a stage – but a manger.
And they have chosen to follow a God who, out of love, humbles himself and gives up everything in order to save us; and they have chosen – with God’s help – to live like God.
To him be the glory and the honour and the dominion and the power, for ever and ever, Amen.
Much of the above is inspired by a quote from St Augustine:
“Born of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary.” He, so great God, equal with the Father, born of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary. Born lowly, that thereby He might heal the proud. Man exalted himself and fell. God humbled Himself and raised him up. Christ’s lowliness, what is it? God hath stretched out a hand to man laid low. We fell. He descended: we lay low. He stooped. Let us lay hold and rise, that we fall not into punishment. So then His stooping to us is this. “Born of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary.” His very Nativity too as man, it is lowly, and it is lofty. Whence lowly? That as man He was born of men. Whence lofty? That He was born of a virgin."