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Registered - Sermon on Luke 2:1-20

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All the earth was to be registered according to the Luke, which seems considerably stronger than just a simple sentence. Registered implies a much stronger means of keeping track of people.  

 This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

December 24, 2016 - Christmas Eve  

"Registered".  Text is from Luke 2:1-20




Greetings to you, sisters and brothers, my family in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God. 

This is the night for the hope for all the ages. And here, Luke has lain it out in great detail, Augustus is emperor of all of Rome, and Quirinius is the governor of Syria. And because the emperor is demanding that all of this world be registered, Joseph is forced to make his way from his home in Nazareth, which is in the north of Israel around Galilee to Bethlehem, which is not far from Jerusalem because it is where he hails from, coming from the line of David, who was also originally from this place.

It is during this time that the hapless couple arrive in Bethlehem to find that there is no one to take him in, that there is no room to rest, that they've arrived too late to make a reservation in the town which must have been full up because of Augustus's decree and Mary, ready to give birth, was forced to bear the new baby in a manger.

After that the shepherds receive the announcement that Jesus is borne and had the words from the angels to give to Mary and Joseph, giving the mother Mary the gift of the treasure of the hope of angels to have as she held the little newborn child...God to her breast.

Volkstelling 1925 Census.jpg
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What was this registration that set them on this path? Why did Augustus find a need to have all of the people registered. We have often imagined this as some kind of census, but here, in 2016, I find the use of the word "registered" as somewhat sinister. What is it that we register for? 

When I was a young man, I was registering for the selective service. Vietnam was a few years behind us but the Government wanted to know where all of its draft age men were, so out of civic duty, I maintained the card and sent it on until I hit the age of 26. 

Engaged couples often register for gifts. This is so that there aren't duplicates of things and that they won't have to worry about returning things they don't have a need for when they get married. It's entirely about collecting information for a purpose.

A census is just about counting people, right? This was a registration. The Roman Empire wanted to keep tabs on the people living there, not so that they can allocate resources properly, like a census would but so they would be able to maintain order. We read in scripture that the Empire wanted to register the world which must have been a daunting task indeed! Imagine if we had those records today, what we could prove or disprove. But the Roman Empire was only interested in who was around at that time, so that order could be maintained over all the regions they controlled and that they could remain in power, one Emperor over all the known world. 

Which is considerably different than it would be that a small minority of people be registered in the United States. I remember there were politicians back in the 80s and 90s who tried to pass legislation demanding the registration of anyone who tested positive for HIV in the declaration that it would prevent the spread of AIDS, but in reality, many of these people were interested in removing what they determined were the undesirables of society from the public. 

This is what I hear when I hear talk of registering Muslims that are in our country, many of whom are American Citizens and many others are fleeing from war torn areas like Syria, refugees with no place to go. The rationale is that it will protect us from Islamist terrorists, when in reality it would use an unjust means to create a false sense of security, using a page of the playbook from the TSA, to create the illusion that if we have the names of all these people who profess a certain faith then we will be suddenly immune from a type of threat to Americans that actually endanger far fewer people than things like domestic gunshot wounds and a healthcare system that continues, even under the Affordable Care Act, to allow some people to fall through cracks because health costs continue to be prohibitively expensive. 

We have gotten to this place of distrust of neighbor because of a paranoia that has been driven into us whether intentionally or unintentionally by the same media sources that demand that we spend, spend, spend to prove our love for our loved ones in the months leading to Christmas. There is a kind of paranoia that pervades that that prevents us from being hosts to the stranger the lost, those seeking refuge. How can we as human beings take the word of those who would seek to alienate others, when we know ourselves that the refugees who are entering our borders are escaping the same type of terror that we ourselves have declared that we fear in the media.  

We point at Muslims and say, "we must keep track of them, they are terrorists," because of an incredibly small percentage of them who believe they're fighting a holy war. And it hurts people we should be trying to help, and hurts ourselves when we who profess to be following Christ are acting in such an unchristian manner.  We cannot say we are participating in this self-professed holy war, and still claim to be following our own Christian faith. 

Jesus is the light come into the world. He is the hope of the ages. And we need not a sign in the sky from angels to tell us the Christ in others needs to find a place to lay their bed and rest. I honestly don't know how many of these people who our next president seeks to register are refugees, undocumented or documented immigrants or how many are naturalized or born American citizens. I know that when I meet people who are marginalized, Muslim or not, I meet people who want to be safe and want to be treated like I want to be treated, with respect, dignity, and care. Let us remember that Christ came to save not just the people of Israel, but the whole world, all included.

Christ, the Lord has come into them world. The choirs of angels have declared his glory. The shepherds come in from the fields to gaze upon his miraculous face and share the good tidings they have been given. 

A mother gazes upon a vulnerable child's face and maybe for a moment, cannot fathom that the innocent baby born to her is destined to lead the people out of darkness. For them, in that moment, Jesus is a helpless baby. 

A baby who holds the darkness of the world at bay. 

Amen.


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