The Savior In A Feeding Bin
December 14, 2008
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
A Curious Feeling Of A Lack Of Unity
1. When [I] read the birth of Jesus Christ, I get a curious feeling of disunity. On the one hand, taken like it is given, a marvelous and extraordinary event is found there. For example, the angel Gabriel suddenly appears and makes the announcement from God to Mary. An angel appears and reports the birth of the messiah to [some] shepherds who were camping out. Then an army of angels appears and praises God. Thus, upon first glance a story that seems hardly more than a mere fairy tale is found in the text.
2. But on the other hand, as [I] wonder about it, the emperor given the name of Augustus is found, among other things, in the scripture passage that was read for today. [He is] the first emperor of the Roman empire. That emperor under the name of Octavianus is found in historical imperial messages as well. Indeed, and not only the emperor, but even the name of the governor of the region of Syria at that time is recorded. What's more, the citizenship census appearing as a major topic here in this text is written with great specificity; it is the first thing in [the text] and appearing more than once. That kind of writing appears even at the beginning of chapter three. We see that Luke is being very particular about being definite on the historical background. In short, he is trying to relate an event in the world that had a certain historical era and date to it. It is a very very real and earthy story of "a citizenship census" from a particular period of time; a true-to-life down and dirty story is written in the text of the real lives of the Jewish public as they were affected by [the census registration process] back in that day. As hard as you may try to put it together in your mind, this part of the story hardly seems to go with the angels appearing in the story from before. It feels mismatched to me!
3. Yet, this uneasy feeling of disunity is important to when we read the gospel and when we read the scriptures. In one sense, the scriptures do speak forth "marvelous things." The scriptures do not merely try to tell human stories of humans doing what-not to humans. The scriptures tell about God. Because God cares, then something marvelous will happen. Angels [may] even appear. Things that are humanly unexpected, indescribable may happen. In particular, because the gospels tell of the coming of the savior, which is just a one time [birth] never to happen again, and they speak of a divine miracle at the level of a turning-point and of divine intervention, in a certain sense, it could be considered appropriate that one or two angels show up.
4. But, in another sense, the scriptures emphasize matters that declare "the real world." The world of reality. Real world events that have certain dates with them. That is, it speaks about matters that directly have to do with our down and dirty every day living, with us here in this place. This one named Jesus, whose birth is being told about in this text, certainly did walk upon the same face of the earth as us, and when he was murdered, that cross [of his] was erected on the same surface of the earth. It took place during a certain limited season when Pontius Pilate used to be the governor over Judea. Thus, quite persistently and consistently, the Bible is relating something that has to do with the ordinary world, this world of ours with its places and dates. Today's passage comes [to us] that way as well.
A Story From Reality
5. Well now, what, I wonder, is being said in this text? In today's gospel reading, we heard, first of all, the following words. "In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the citizens of the entire region would have to register. This was the first citizenship registration held when Quirinius had been the governor of Syria," (verses one and two).
6. There was [this] one [massive] movement in this world. Augustus issued an imperial edict. An edict for the registration of the citizenship. It seems that there were two big reasons for this registration. One was for the accurate collecting of taxes from the conquered and occupied peoples. The other was for ascertaining the number of persons available for military service. In short, this census of the population and registration of the citizenship was held to completely include the occupied people groups like the Jews into the system of the Roman empire. It was set up oblivious to the will of Joseph, one of the laborers, who was a Jew. And Joseph had to obey the ruling. He had to interrupt his regular work and make this trip.
7. A trip to Bethlehem. It took about three days. If it were just a matter of suspending work, it might be annoying to a degree but not so bad. But in his case it was not so good. He had a fiancée who at any moment was approaching her last month of pregnancy. She had to make the trip with him, too. The long trip was obviously harsh. Nevertheless, they must obey the imperial edict. -- Even if serious circumstances were expected. Beginning in verse three it is written as follows. "All of the people set out on journeys to each of their own cities respectively in order to register. Since Joseph belonged to the house of David and was of that lineage, he went from the Galilean city of Nazareth to the city of David called Bethlehem of Judea. He [did so] in order to register along with his betrothed Mary, who was with child," (verses three through five).
8. These kinds of things do happen in this every day world of ours. We've got our own experiences and memories. Our lives might consist upon some unclear basis like what's written here. An edict comes out. So we gotta make a trip. Our own lives go like that. Nowadays emperors aren't issuing imperial edicts. For some, changes in stock prices actually have a direct hit upon their lives just like an order from an emperor. In some cases due to systematic reorganization of businesses, or in some cases due to unexpected natural disasters, persons must take some trip leaving behind their once peaceful lives. In this world the winds blow indifferent to our wills. Thus, the leaves of the trees are blown by the winds and made to fly. Without a doubt, that is the reality of our day-to-day existence.
9. Furthermore the text beginning in verse six has the following. "However, while they were in Bethlehem, Mary had come to full term, she gave birth to her first child, and wrapping him in cloth, she laid him to sleep in a manger; for, there was no room for them to stay in the inn," (verses six and seven).
10. Can't you see our own figures here? Joseph must have loved Mary. Who in the world would want a loved one to give birth in a place like a dirty cattle shed? Some how or other Joseph must have [tried to] arrange some kind of situation for Mary to safely give birth to the baby. But Joseph couldn't. It is written here in the text without any hesitation and states it candidly, that it was fairly miserable; because, in a place where not one thing they needed was present, she had to have her baby come out like some horse or cow. Most likely Mary wasn't there looking at the infant with a beautiful countenance like in religious paintings. I imagine Mary was probably there barely managing to maintain the safety of her child. Joseph was surely not likely to desire Mary to be in this kind of shape. Yet, no matter how much he loved her he could not give her what she needed the time she needed it. He truly could not give her the help she needed. While ashamed at his own inability and powerlessness, he could do nothing but watch over her. We surely have things like that in our own lives.
11. I don't think it was any different for Mary. Who in the world would ever want to put [her] child, to whom [she] gave birth, in a feeding bin? She wanted to arrange the best situation for her child. But, she couldn't get it done. There we have the sorrow of a parent. The shape Mary was in is not something that just other people get into. It is the same for parents in any time period. I think everybody, including us today, wants to arrange a truly happy and safe society for their future children to live in. But, the reality is that the only society we leave behind for them is a slimy and sullied one, like some food bowl for animals. Doesn't the shape we're in cross boundaries with the shape Mary was in?
12. If I may say a bit more then, we can probably see the shape [these] people were in, when [they] had lost the place [they] should have been in originally, when [they] had been placed afar from the place [they] were supposed to be by nature. "For, there was no room for them to stay in the inn," (verse seven). That's what's written. To begin with, they were staying in a place where people weren't supposed to stay.
13. They were driven from where they were supposed to be, and they were where they weren't supposed to be. From the beginning the scriptures speak on this shape human beings are in. [It tells] the story of the Garden of Eden, the peace with God, the peace with humans, the peace with nature. It is the story of the people who had lost the garden of Eden where all these things had been a part of reality. I'd say that that is actually our own story. The scripture states that the shape humans are in, where they cannot believe in the love of God, where peers cannot believe each other, but hate each other and kill each other, is not the original shape humans were in. We are not in the place we are supposed to be originally. We were originally supposed to be at peace with God, [at] peace with humans, and [at] peace with nature. Having been driven out from there, we live in the stench of hatred and anger heavily floating around in the air, and into it we give birth to our own children. That's the reality of humanity.
The Savior In A Manger
14. But, we don't need to lose hope by looking at the human reality that's going on. Today's passage speaks on that. It is not just Joseph and Mary who appear in the scripture that was read today. There is also the infant. The infant is the one about whom the angel Gabriel already gave the birth announcement to Mary when he had appeared to her. The infant is the one of whom it was said, "The child to be born is holy, he will be called the son of God," (1:35). The infant, also, is the one about whom it will be announced later after a messenger appears to the shepherds, "Fear not! I announce great joy that is to be given to all peoples. Today in the city of David, a savior is born for you."
15. This infant, born by an act of God, is in a cattle shed where the stench floats heavily in the air. He is in a cattle shed, which sort of symbolizes the sorrowful reality of humanity. There is an infant laid to sleep in a manger; which means that God's salvation has begun right there in the reality of humankind which we have already seen in the figures of Joseph and Mary. God's hand of salvation reaches right there. The work of God's salvation has begun in uncertainty like when the wind blows and the leaves fly, and in our powerlessness, where we cannot even help our own loved ones and we cannot even help our own beloved children, and in our daily lives where we have lost peace with God, peace with humans, and peace with nature, and over which the stench of hatred and anger hangs. That's how it is. Our assembling before baby Jesus and the crucified Jesus is for that reason. Our gathering each week and our beginning to live offering up daily worship is for that reason. The hands of God are in our real world.
16. As I stated at the first, this is not merely a story about human beings. It is a story about God that Luke is seeking to relate. It is a story about the salvation of God, who loves this world, and who cares for us as we live in this passing world. Since we too are right smack dab in this world, we can be with the savior. And we can see our own lives as stories about the salvation of God.