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Christmas Eve: Luke 2:1-12

December 24, 2022

The Indigenous writer Thomas King says that “the truth about stories is that that’s all we are.” At Christmastime we have at least three possible stories to choose from.

There’s the story we hear every time we step into a store, whether for essentials or to buy a gift. It’s all happiness and white Christmas, love or longing because of the true love’s absence, it’s happy childhoods of snowmen and reindeers. Jolly times baking cookies. Happy family, perfect presents, good food and drink. The stockings hung by the chimney with care.

That’s one story. Maybe it’s true, or maybe it’s just a story.

Then there are two other stories.

One revolves around the Emperor, Caesar Augustus. He’s the one in charge, in far away Rome, when a census is called. He’s famous for the period of “Pax Romana,” the Roman peace. Except that he was also expanding the empire farther than it had ever gone. So not much peace if you happen to be located between Rome and Egypt.

The gospel tells us that the census was called when Quirinius was military ruler of the region. The census was no neutral undertaking. The purpose would have been to assess the region’s capacity for paying taxes. The people had no choice about participating, and the way this story is told, the power of the emperor could make Joseph and Mary travel about 85 miles when she is heavily pregnant. This is a story of brutality and exploitation.

You may have heard that there is no historical record of a census taking place at the time our gospel writer places it. There was one around the year 6, after Herod had died, but not when Luke says.

Maybe it’s true, or maybe it’s just a story.

Then there is the third story.

We get a lot of details for this one. Names and places: Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem. The birth of the firstborn, wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger, the only place available.

The shepherds, at first terrified by the angels and then electrified. The announcement: Good news for all people. The Saviour is born, the Messiah, the Lord. Go look for a baby wrapped like every other baby.

So they go. They find Mary and Joseph and the baby. And they tell everyone and everyone who hears it is amazed.

Maybe it’s true, or maybe it’s just a story.

I wonder, What story should we choose? I bet you know which one I’m voting for.

Mary and Joseph are not poster children for the happy Christmas family. They’re more real than that.

Their story is located away from the centers of power—Jerusalem, Rome.

They are sleeping with the animals. The way that dwellings were constructed, that would be down below the living space for people.

The angels appear to shepherds: peasants, working people.

Most importantly, the angels tell us that the baby will bring peace. The word in Greek is airene, which literally means “set at one again,” and “join.” It implies prosperity. It has the sense of right relations between people and also of physical wellbeing. It means real peace, not the façade of the Pax Romana.

And the angels also issue a challenge. They know that there is another story at work, one of brutality and violence. They give three titles to the baby: Saviour, Messiah and Lord. It just so happens that the Emperor Augustus was called god, son of god, saviour, and father.

So, which story is telling the truth? Maybe a better question is, “which truth do we want to participate in?” In the story that we choose, as Christians, God is not opting for perfection as defined by the world around us. Not wealth, not power, not happy family and perfect presents.

God is at work in this different story, where the people are strangely real. They don’t have complete control over their lives, they make do with what they have, they have babies and wrap them up like every other baby. This is the life that, in Jesus, God chooses to share with us.

Alleluia. Glory to God.