Christmas Sunday Service: The Birth Of The Lord
December 23, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. Today at 2 P.M. [our] Christmas play will be performed. Yesterday as well, the children practiced very hard. In the pageant, scenes from the passage of scripture just read can be found. The scene of the birth of Jesus is played as a charming and pleasant scene. When it turns this season, we see in pictures, like on Christmas cards, Mary and Joseph are in a stable and even the shepherds are in attendance. How beautifully everything is depicted!
2. But, we must not forget that that place could not have actually been a beautiful place at all. The scriptures, rather matter-of-factly, tell us that miserable situation as follows. "When Mary's time had come, she gave birth to her first child, then wrapping him in cloth, she put him to bed in a manger; because there was no room for them to stay at the inn."
The World The Scripture Describes
3. There was a boy who had been born in a very unfortunate way. There was a poor boy, exposed to danger to his life from the time he was born. Was it the child's fault? No, it wasn't. A person does not choose his parents, the place of birth, the manner of birth. So are the parents guilty? The parents could not secure a safe delivery place. But, there was nothing they could do about that. They did all they could for the baby that was on the way and for themselves. Who would want to put their own child born to them to bed in a manger? However, there are times when no matter how one tries one cannot do a thing. No matter how much a parent wants to do something for his or her child, sometimes you just can't and that's it.
4. So, were the people, who did not let them stay in the inn, guilty then? They were certainly lacking in sympathy for the pregnant young lady. It seems highly unlikely that there was no way possible for them to make room for one small family to spend one night, had they each shared just a bit of space for them. But, even with that too, in a certain sense, there was nothing they could do about it because they too had their own hands full with their own things to do. At that time, an imperial edict from Caesar Augustus commanding the residents of the entire territory to go and register had come forth. The details regarding the resident registry are unclear, but it is believed that it was probably a registration for taxation purposes. A brand new burden must have started in a heavy way upon their day to day lives. For this registration, the people were compelled to set out on trips to their hometowns. Under such circumstances who in the world could blame the people for not showing sympathy to this family?
5. Thus, the words, "there was no room for them to stay at the inn," are not for blaming anyone, but give expression to the reality of this world. It is only a way of saying that as long as you live in this passing world, you're going to find there's nothing you can do sometimes; it's a depiction of that reality. You and I both live in that kind of world.
6. And into that such a world, a fleeting world, a miserable delivery of a baby was made. The words of the scripture, which we read just ago, are telling us that. The scriptures don't say the place was a stable. But, since there was a feeding trough, a manger, some how or another, it is believed to have been a place similar to that. Whatever it was, any way you look at it, it was not a place fit for the delivery of a baby. In a place where not one thing she needed was even present, Mary was forced to deliver her baby.
7. When we look at holy pictures, Mary is always depicted gazing at Jesus with beautiful facial expressions there, and with a glance filled with pity and love. However, if you consider this with common-sense, such a thing seems hardly even possible. It is very unrealistic to depict Mary with a beautiful smiling face in this scene. Instead, what I imagine there is nothing except the figures of a man and a woman worn out to a pulp, so dogged tired, so completely exhausted from the worst of mental strain and physical drain, but who secure some safety for the child, just barely, by putting him to bed in a manger. Isn't that how it was?
8. This is the reality of the world which the Bible delineates. This world which the Bible delineates is the kind of world where a poor husband and wife must have their child born in a place where there is cattle. It is a world where people's hearts are pressured to the point that they cannot show sympathy to a small family such as this. And it is also the kind of world where a person who is completely sinless will end up crucified by an unfair trial. Is the Bible's way of telling things a bit too extreme? No, I don't think it is at all. Even now, anywhere in the world, similar things are taking place. Moreover, to one extent or another, we feel that world in a familiar way, we've experienced it ourselves. There have certainly been our times when we could not help but exclaim, "Why did such a cruel thing happen!" We all may even feel that way just going back over this past year. We are helpless to admit, "Oh my, oh my!," that this world is like some muddy ditch where the sin of all humankind lies built up with sedimentary deposits.
9. So, anybody living in this world will get into a lot of trouble at one time or another. At times we'll want to flee it. We'll want to escape reality. In fact, in various different ways we'll experiment with trying to escape from it. Some run to pleasures to make themselves forget their problems momentarily. They don't even care how immoral or even how dangerous it may be at times. They may end up not even caring even though at times it hurts themselves, or it hurts and causes suffering to others. It doesn't matter to them as long as they can escape even for just a few moments from painful reality. Some get into alcohol or even into dangerous drugs. When they are intoxicated, when they get high, at least they aren't people who have to deal responsibly in society. At least, in their own minds, they can disappear as one of the people who live in this world.
The Savior Is In A Feeding Trough
10. But, the scriptures are addressing us, how ever we may be. Please look at this. The scriptures are telling us that the savior has indeed come right into this world of ours, the one we would like to abandon, the one we would like to escape from. The scriptures are telling us that there is a savior right besides a weary and worn out man and woman, in a dirty feeding trough. The angels that had appeared to the shepherds would say the following. "Today, in the city of David, a savior was born on your behalf. This very one is the lord messiah. You will find a nursing child wrapped in cloth and sleeping in a manger. This is the sign for you," (verses eleven and twelve).
11. This is a miraculous story. That an army of angels had appeared seems more of a sign than the birth of the messiah, doesn't it? But, I say no to that. The sign that God has given us a savior is not that there is a savior in events that are separated from this passing world, but rather that there is a savior in events that are NOT separated from this passing world. It says the sign is the baby, born in an unclean place and in a miserable manner, asleep in the world, right there in a pitiful figure.
12. So then, into the kind of world that we would like to run away from God did not run from but entered. The kind of world that we would like to abandon God did not abandon. He would never desert it. God still loves this dirty world in spite of how it is. The only son of God, the Christ sleeping in a dirty little manger means exactly that. That was the God given sign.
13. Since that it so, what can we tell about it? It means that since God has not given up on this world, we must not [try] to escape from this world. No matter how hard, how painful, how miserable living in this temporary world may be, we must not run from the reality of it. We must not give up on living in this passing world.
14. I used to think that religion of any kind was no more than a method of escaping reality. That's why I did not want to have any faith. Beginning with both my parents I was critical towards adults with faith. I used to go to other church meetings to deliberately challenge them in debate. I still think today that religion can sometimes turn into a method of escaping reality. Christianity is no exception either. People will seek in religion a different world from the daily one. In a religious stupor and frenzy some people will even seek a different world from this temporary one. Having run from many different difficult relationships with others in the world, not a few young people will run to cult groups seeking for the intimate exchange of the hearts of their peers distant from the fleeting and carnal world.
15. But the truth is, that is not true. This thing called the Christian faith is not some method to escape from reality. Instead, we believe in God in order not to escape from reality, so that we don't run away from it. We believe in the God who thought it good to send his only son into this world and put him to sleep in a dirty manger as one of the people born into the world. We believe in the God who cares and loves this world and us who live in it as human beings. This is the world which God loved and sent his son into. [This] is the world which God loved so much that he felt he should crucify his only son [for it]. And [this] is the world which he loves right now. Therefore, by believing in God, with God we will go on living right in this world.
16. At the very beginning [of this sermon] I spoke of the pageant. The scene of a beautifully described stable. But also, I mentioned that we must not forget that it was, in fact, not a beautiful place at all. But, we should say the totally opposite. It could not possibly be a beautiful place. However, it could become a beautiful place as well. It could; since God loves this world and let the Christ be born into this passing world, and [since we] are with God, then we should be able to live as we love and treasure the world that God loves, as we love and treasure our neighbors, as we love and treasure even ourselves, and as we love and treasure the lives we are living on this earth. Whenever [one] is with the God who placed the Christ into the stable, even the dirty stables can become beautiful places.