Chatfield United Methodist Church
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
The musical TV show Glee has popularized a way of singing songs called Mash ups. A mash up is when you take two songs and create a new way of singing them. The writers of Glee define a mash up as when you take two songs and mash them together to make an even richer explosion of musical expression." This way of creating richer explosions of musical expression has also created an amazingly popular musical TV show and raised the bar for high school choirs .
A Mash up is how we usually hear and tell the nativity story. From the annunciation to the visit with Elizabeth to the birth to the shepherds and angels to visit of the wise men, we hear the story as a continuous stream. As if one person wrote the entire story. But this traditional way of hearing the nativity story is really A Mash Up A mash up of two different, entirely different stories.
Like a musical mash up, this mash up does create a rich explosion of creativity. The songs, the readings, the advent traditions, the children’s programs, the Christmas eve liturgies, the nativity scenes with shepherds, wise men, angels all together, what would Advent and Christmas be without them?
But, while this Mash up adds richly to our Christmas/advent experience, there is something deeply meaningful when each part of the story is told within the purpose of its own unique telling.
Maybe you don’t even know that there are different nativity stories in the bible. There are three actually, three different ways of telling about the birth of Jesus. Many people don’t. Even people who have grown up in the church.
Maybe you knew that the shepherds were in Luke and the wise men were in Matthew. But did you know that there were two to three years between the visit of the shepherds and the coming of the wise men? Did you know that the wise men didn’t see Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes, laying in a manger?
Did you know that there was a nativity story in the Book of Revelation?
Do you know that these stories were written so that the church would be encouraged in its walk with Jesus?
Do you know that these stories were written with details that point to some amazing truths that can encourage us in our own walk with Jesus?
These three different stories proclaim something truly unique and important about how the birth of Jesus changed the world.
Today we look at the story in Luke. And we start at the end: With the shepherds. Who hear an amazing proclamation from the angels: “We bring you good news for all people. Your Savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord.”
Good News, Savior, Christ, Lord. Each one of these words made the church of Jesus Christ in the first century sit up and pay attention.
Savior/Redeeming One, Christ/Messiah, Lord/Son of God. They paid attention because these were also the words used to describe the Roman Emperor. Son of God, the one who will Save us, The one that we have been waiting for to save us, The one the prophecies told us about.
If you have read or have heard of the Percy Jackson young adult book series by Rick Riordan you will understand a little of what was believed of Roman Emperors in the 1st century AD. In the books, the boys and girls who battle monsters and continually save the world from evil are called demi-gods. They each have a human parent and a parent who was a Roman or Greek God, like Athena, or Zeus, or Poseidon.
This sounds very far fetched and magical, until you realize that this is exactly what Roman citizens believed about their emperor. Beginning with Julius Caesar and coming to full identity in Caesar Augustus, it was believed that emperors were men who were born of divine descent. They had a human mother and a Roman God as their father. A human demi-god. A son of god.
Caesar Augustus reigned fairly well until 14 AD. Because he did bring peace to Rome and some prosperity to the empire he might have earned the name Savior. He was called ‘god from god’ by the Egyptians who know at little bit about gods.
However, each Caesar or Emperor after Augustus, no matter how they ruled, was given the same divine attributes. Son of God, Savior, Lord.
Two generations later, during the time when the book of Luke was written, Nero was Emperor and Nero was crazy. He murdered his mother, brother, and anyone else who stood in his way. And he particularly persecuted the early church.
Yet, he was named, Savior, Son of God, Lord. And thought to be of divine birth.
These names were no longer attributes of one who saves but of one who destroys. Divinity was not longer something to be honored but feared.
The message the angels brought to the shepherds was truly Good News to the early church. While Nero fiddles as Rome is burning. While the rest of the world calls Nero Savior, Lord and Son of, God: and watch as their world crumbles before them. God brings a message: Listen people of God, Look, Do not be afraid: a true Savior has been born.
And common ordinary people like you and me and shepherds and people whose babies are born into poverty are given the message. Not the king on his throne or even his advisors.
Common ordinary people like you and me and shepherds and people whose babies are born into poverty hear the message.
A new way of being savior, son of God, Messiah has been born. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones.
In this child, Jesus, Son of God, Savior, Messiah:
We are saved from the lunacy of the power of the economy that rewards only those who have more and more and more while jeopardizing the safety of those who have little.
We are saved from the immorality of human structures that name some people more important than others. That name some people as more worthy of being saved than others.
We are saved! The powerful are brought down from their thrones.
We are saved from ourselves; from our own sinfulness that wants to make our needs the center of the universe.
We are saved from our own narrow-mindedness that wants only what is best for our people.
We are saved from our own self-doubt which wonders, could God love me?
We are saved. From our sins to become all that God has created us to be.
We are saved. The powerful one who convinces you that you are not a child of God has been brought down from the throne.
As Roman Empires burn and self deluded Emperors fiddle, we are saved. The powerful have been brought down from their thrones.
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to all who hear and bear witness to the Savior born among us who is Christ the Lord.