I don’t know if you know this or not, but Christmas was actually a showdown of epic proportions. Celestial proportions, even.
In this corner, we have Emperor Augustus! Ruler of the Roman Empire. The man who stopped civil war, consolidated power, brought 200 years(!) of peace to the empire,
built roads, created police and fire departments, shoot (!), we named a whole month after the guy!
The epitome of everything we look for in a hero…as long as you stay on his good side.
And in this corner, we have dirty shepherds, peasant parents, and a bunch of stinky farm animals, gathered around the helpless body of a newborn baby boy.
Place your bets, everyone! Place your bets! …
It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? That that’s the matchup? The power of the empire vs. the power of the Kingdom.
Might and armies and importance and certainty –
- weakness and love and humility and hope.
What are you banking on to actually make a difference? What are you counting on to save your own skin?
Let me take a moment and ruin the ending for you.
You are here. The Kingdom is here. The Empire is not.
And if we’re paying attention, that ought to make us pause a second. Because it’s no secret we are living in polarizing times. We are living in empire times.
Times when our lives are getting defined by what side we’re standing on. By how strong and mighty our leaders are. Scorecards are kept and wins and losses are tallies.
And, God help us, we sure do like to win, don’t we?
But in order for there to be winners, there have to be losers.
You will know an empire when you see it because empires always have winners and losers.
On the other hand, you will also know the Kingdom of God when you see it, because the kingdom is just filled to the brim with a whole bunch of losers.
People sitting in holes who can’t seem to stop digging.
People who judge and get angry. Hypocrites and narcissists. People afraid.
Afraid of our neighbor. Afraid of the future. Afraid of what this world is coming to!
Afraid of pain and loneliness. Afraid of our own irrelevance.
The Kingdom of God is made up of people such as these. People an awful lot like you and me.
And when you put the Kingdom up against the Empire, up against all those winners, it sure doesn’t look like much, does it? Who would take that bet?
But looks can be deceiving. Because the Kingdom is here. The Empire is not.
Jesus did not come to build a new empire, to create new categories of winners and losers, but to usher in the Kingdom. To begin God’s new way, that isn’t about who is best or strongest or smartest or fastest.
God’s new way that doesn’t depend on us being right or getting it right or picking the right side.
God knows, if it’s up to us, we’re always going to choose the empire.
But about realizing that in Jesus, God chooses us. God stands on our side. God stands with all the losers of the world and says, “Yep! You’re my people! You have nothing to prove. I know exactly who you are.
I know your struggles. I know your pain. I know your hope. I know your joy. I know exactly who you are.”
And in all of that, God says, “I am with you.”
In the Kingdom of God, there are only losers. Only people who are scared. Who are weak. Who are hurting. Who have been left behind.
And just when you think the bar can’t get any lower, God says, “No, no. You, too. Get in here, now.” And even when we can’t see it, God knows, this is just where we belong, too.
You know, it’s no secret that the celebration of Christmas has been almost completely taken over by things that have nothing to do with Christmas – presents, trees, Santa, family stress, holiday baking, parties, all of it!
And I’m not gonna stand up here and try and convince you that all that is bad. But what I will say is that it’s not surprising.
It’s not surprising that we have created all kinds of distractions, to draw our attention from our own need.
To be needy is to be weak! And no one wants to be weak! No one wants to need! But God knows, that’s where grace is. That’s where love is.
Not in the empire of winners and losers! But in the Kingdom of people who know they need one another. That know we need God!
God knows, that’s where grace is.
What we want is for God to show up like the hero! The winner who makes us all better and braver and stronger, just by association!
But God doesn’t show up as the winner. God shows up as weak. As helpless. As a baby. As the lowest and the weakest and says, “This is grace. Here is love. Don’t be afraid.”
In Jesus, God comes to us. To stand with us, in all our weakness and need.
And it might not look like much. Not compared to the empires of the world, but looks can be deceiving.
Because the Kingdom is here. Hope is alive.
Grace abounds! Love remains! God is with you!
So don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. This is Christmas.