Christmas Day 2019 St Mary Magdalene Madingley
Isaiah 9 2-7 Titus 2 11-14 Luke 2 1-14, [15-20]
I wonder: who, would you say is your “influencer?” Of course, I may be asking this just to show that I’m not so out of touch with the modern world as my increasing grey hairs may suggest. For those of you who are not so well up in things as I am, an influencer can be defined as one who has a considerable following on the social media, and is someone who makes a good living out of recommending products which their followers then buy and use. Celebrity and fame is what the influencers seek, though their time of being in the spotlight is often limited.
The gospel reading we have just heard is one of the most famous stories in the world, and its influence has not been short-lived. The writer, Luke, starts with emperors and governors, who one could justifiably think of as being amongst those who have most impact on our history. So the emperor Augustus decides he wants to take a census, something which was entirely against Jewish Law and therefore likely to cause consternation amongst the inhabitants of Judaea. But like it or not, they all had to up-sticks and travel to the birthplace of the member of their family who could be traced back through many generations.
Which brings us to another person of influence, because the forbear that Joseph could claim connection to was David, the most important king in the nation’s history. The history of the Roman Empire, and the Jewish nation, are brought together not in Jerusalem, the seat of religious and political power, but in one small town lying about 6 miles to the south of Jerusalem. And after all these important people have played their part, we are introduced to the central figure, which is – – a baby. We have heard this story so many times that we will have lost the sense of bewilderment which people hearing it for the first time would have felt. We have been led to believe that something important is about to be announced – and then we are presented with a baby, born in un-hygienic conditions, which might lead us to wonder at his chances of survival. Why the big song and dance about him?
From this point on we are being encouraged to look at the world with fresh eyes. This child, when he grows up, will spend 3 years of ministry, teaching anyone who would listen that the world is not the way they had thought it was. That the poor, the struggling, the insignificant members of society are just as important to God as those who live in fine houses and palaces. Kings and emperors, high priests and rabbis, all may think they are important, but their time of influence is limited.
The child who is born in a stable is the one whose sphere of influence will be increased by his future death and subsequent resurrection and ascension. The passage of time will not diminish his place on the stage of world history.
Just to ram this point home, who does God choose to announce this birth to? The high priests in the Temple in Jerusalem? That would make sense. But no, he goes to the shepherds on the hillsides outside Bethlehem. The members of a group who were looked down upon because the nature of their work meant that they could not obey all the rules and regulations which the Jewish religion demanded of its followers. Definitely second-class citizens, most assuredly not influential. So God’s Son is born into obscurity, and his arrival is announced to a group who were not in a position to broadcast widely the information they have been privy to.
God’s way of showing us that we have made the wrong choices, have followed the wrong leaders, is to send his Son to live in poverty, fragility and danger as a human baby, with no wealth or human power to protect him. In doing this, he shows us the way ahead, and our desperate need to recognize that the one who cries out to be our influencer is that child born in appalling conditions, but who grows up to proclaim that the one on whom we should fix our attention is God the Father who loved us into existence, and his Son who came to show us how to live as full human beings.
So, who is your influencer? I would hope the answer to that should be fairly obvious by now! But one last thought: if you can say with conviction that God is the rock on which you build your life, can you be an influencer for other people?