On Monday evening I participated in a subversive action under the watchful eye of the Australian Federal Police, the Western Australian Police Service and a Security Service Provider.
We arranged to meet around the corner from our planned action but the police tracked us down and came to give us all the once over.
Then when we gathered outside the Immigration Department Building to say prayers and sing Carols, the police took copies of our liturgies to see if there was anything subversive in them – yes they read them through very carefully.
In this day and age when the message of so many seeks to sow despair, the Christmas Story seeks to sow some hope in the hearts of people. We have become so used to a political background of conflict and war that when the Christmas Story calls us into a peace which passes all understanding most people don’t get it – even some Christians. Where so many want spread a message of hatred towards those who are different, the Christmas Story proclaims God’s love to all humanity.
It is in this sense that many aspects of the Christmas Story is a subversive one. It is calling people into what is so often the opposite reaction to their instinctive reactions to the world around them.
A couple of weeks ago I asked you to put on your “Peace-Maker Glasses” so that you might be able to understand the sub-text of the story we had read about the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry in Luke 3.
We need those same glasses on to make sense of the beginning of Luke 2 as well. Matthew and Luke have relied on different traditions in the development of their birth stories. Matthew’s is very much a Royal tradition – he makes much of Mary and Joseph living in Bethlehem – the Home Town of the hero-king David – and he tells the stories of the wise men coming from far away to meet this new King of Israel.
Luke’s is a People of God tradition. In the same way that he anchors his story with the names of all those people who were symbols of the domination and oppression of the People of God – Caesar Augustus, Quirinius etc. – he uses sheep and shepherds as code language for the people of God in God’s care.
With angels as the proclaimers of the people’s liberation Luke creates a picture that stands in stark contrast to their everyday reality under the Romans and in stark contrast to everyone’s typical expectations of the actions of a God.
Last Sunday the choir I sang in did a little concert and play in which in part we sang words from a poem by Elizabeth Jennings in which she said:
“Put memory away and watch a world
Grown almost still because a baby can
Convince us that he is born God and Man.”
We have come to call him sometimes “Son of Man” and sometimes “Son of God” – either is right.
When most people think of God breaking into the affairs of the world, they think of God doing so with great power and might, breaking the laws of nature so that bad things don’t happen any more.
The story Luke tells and which we celebrate today is the complete opposite – and in some ways it is subversive, too.
The miracle of the Christmas Story was not that a man was born who was also God – embodying the omniscience, and the omnipotence we associate with God-ness.
The real miracle is that our God put those things aside and assumed our humanity, coming as a feeble little child into a very difficult time and place – like one of the millions of children born this year into war zones.
It is the paradox of all this that gives us the ability to turn the world upside down – to overthrow the powers of the Principalities and Powers with love, offering a peace that is not born out of force but out of love freely given. God came among us to show us the way – and Jesus is truly the Way to God.