First Thoughts From The Rev. Canon David Smith: 

Most weeks Fr. David sends out an e-mail with his first thoughts on the upcoming Sunday readings. These reflections are designed to encourage people to consider the readings before they come to worship which we hope will enrich Sunday worship. People are invited to respond to David with their own thoughts and sometimes interesting ideas and conversations occur that end up in the sermon. If you would like to receive these weekly e-mails e-mail David at  . 

Reflections for Advent 4: St. Luke 2: 1-20

Posted by Emily Sanderson on Thursday, December 18, 2014
Hi everyone and welcome to Ben and Kristen Cowan who signed up for First Thoughts.

Ben and Kristen, almost every week I try to send out my preliminary thoughts on the upcoming Sunday's Scripture readings. I usually end up referring to a commentary but I try to reflect what I perceive from the text on a first reading. Hopefully this encourages people to read and think about the texts before Sunday, enriching the worship experience. Sometimes people e-mail me back with their thoughts. I like this dynamic and sometimes their ideas end up in the sermon.

This Sunday is unique because at St. John's we will worship with a Carols and Lessons service and at St. Philip's we are having a Living Crèche so we will not be using the lectionary. There is one common reading however, and that is Luke's nativity story so I will comment on it this week.

Reading St. Luke 2: 1-20

Of course this is a very beautiful and cherished reading. It is the story of the birth of Jesus filled with joy and hope. But sometimes the impact of its message is lost on us because it is too familiar. One of the charming features of the movie we watched at St. Philip's, "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever", was that we heard the story again through the Heardman children who had never heard the story before. They asked great questions such as, "How come there is no King Herod in the play?"   Hopefully we can hear the story as if for the first time this Christmas.

The story in Luke does not mention Herod but it does mention right off the bat , Caesar Augustus.  This highlights the truth of the incarnation. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, because he entered our world and history. To demonstrate this our Lord's birth is clearly set in time and place, that is when Caesar Augustus was in charge.

But I think the opening of the story is also designed to set up a comparison between Jesus, who too would become a King, and Caesar.  Caesar was a powerful ruler and it was claimed that he had brought peace on earth. I think Luke is trying to say that this peace pales in comparison to the peace Jesus will bring.

The humble birth of Jesus is also in direct contrast to the Emperor and I
think it points to the way in which Jesus whose parents were forced to go to
Bethlehem to register by Caesar would overthrow the powerful and liberate
the oppressed.

The story also puts the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem to highlight that Jesus
was from the house of King David as  Bethlehem was the birthplace of David.
This is also a way to demonstrate that Jesus would be a great King.

The birth story of Jesus  with its very humble setting portrays  a contrast
and confrontation between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world.
The rest of the  Luke's Gospel  describes Jesus coming into his Kingdom.

The story mentions three times that Jesus was laid in a manger. N.T. Wright
comments on how many sermons have been and will be preached on the humble
nature of the Lord lying in a manger but he argues that St. Luke's  emphasis
here is to use the manger as a signpost pointing to this baby as the
Messiah. It was the manger for instance that verified to the shepherds that
Jesus was truly the one the angel spoke of.

Of course the angel speaking to the shepherds declares the heart of the
matter. Christmas is good news and a wonderful gift. Christmas is grace.
Christmas is the announcement that God comes to us and offers us love. We
did not earn this gift or even really ask for this gift. It was announced
that God had freely offered the gift of Christ's kingdom of love ,
forgiveness and peace inaugurated through Christ's sacrificial life and
love. It is pure gift and grace.

The sign of this gift of grace was the baby in the manger.

This year I read a  Christmas sermon by Thomas Long  that helped me see the
story in a new way. He argues that there is very few descriptive details in
the story. But he noted that when there is descriptions of characters it is
the response of the shepherds and Mary to what has happened. ( I wonder if
you agree with him?) but his conclusion makes sense. He feels that Luke told
the story in such a way that we would put ourselves in the story and muse
about what our reaction would be. This lead him and me to think about
Christmas pageants and our Living Crèche as a way to enter the story in this
way and to explore what our response might be to being at the manger. Is it
a sign to us of the Saviour who brings great joy and peace?

Just a few thoughts that I hope will help in worship this Christmas.

I want to wish you all a wonderful Christmas and to say thank you for worshipping the king born Christmas day, all through the year at St. John's and St. Philip's.

Just as an aside I had a wonderful moment when I looked at the readings for the Sunday after Christmas. Danny and Marlene from St. John's  have adopted two little children and are having them baptized. Guess what the readings speak of?  Paul in Galatians  writes God sent his son.., so that we might receive adoption as children and the Gospel reading is the story of Jesus being taken to the temple to be presented to the Lord.  The Old Testament reading is a repeat from last week about being clothed in garments of salvation and robes of righteousness and in the children's baptism they will
clothed in Christ. What a wonderful connection with the readings.