Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

Listen in as we hear a conversation between little Arianna, age 8, and her grandmother, Bunny:

Arianna: Grandma Bunny, I’m going to be singing a solo in the Christmas Pageant!
Bunny: Oh my! That’s wonderful. What will you sing?
Arianna: Ummm.
Bunny: Can’t remember?
Arianna: Wait a minute.
Bunny: Okay.
Arianna: Ahhh…who?
Bunny: Who?
Arianna: ‘Who owns this Baby!’
Bunny: ‘Who owns this Baby?’ Do you mean ‘What Child is This?’
Arianna: Yes, that’s it!

Who owns this baby, indeed.

1And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

Who owns this baby? Ask Caesar and he might say “I do.” The nearby province of Egypt was Caesar’s personal property, and by extension the people in it, so why not Judea, just a few miles north? It doesn’t take much of a leap to say “I tax you, therefore I own you.” Could it be Caesar?

4And Joseph went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; with Mary, his wife, being great with child. 6And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

Who owns this baby? Parents imagine, from time to time, that they own their children, or at least have some control over them. But they soon discover the truth. Even the most hovering helicopter parent will admit sooner or later that they have little control in real terms: that it’s only a matter of time before you find them in the temple giving the most amazing answers, or at least over at the neighbour’s house where they say “you have the most polite child.” Yeah, right.

7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Who owns this baby? The innkeeper, once he saw they various gifts appearing in his barn might have said “wait a minute, I took these people in. Sure I didn’t give them my best room, I admit that, but they are in from the cold, in my manger. That baby may not exactly be mine, but I should get some kind of finder’s fee!”

8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

Who owns this baby? The shepherds knew that they had no real stake in this happening. Angels can say whatever they want, but shepherds knew they were at the bottom of the heap: landless, penniless, mostly forgotten. Someone to blame if your car gets broken into, and you lose all those quarters you thought you had cleverly hidden in the ashtray.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Who owns this baby? Maybe this is David’s baby. His city, his house, his lineage, maybe this is the baby of the great King. He wrote the Psalms, he slew the giant, he practically invented chicanery, why couldn’t he make a baby, or be a baby, or return as a baby to free the people so long enslaved? Or maybe not. David would come as a warrior baby, that is for sure, and who would run to worship a warrior baby, all scary in his little baby armour and carrying his little baby sword. No thanks.

12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

Who owns this baby? You know he’s swaddling, or at least his clothing is. Swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, hardly a worry in the world. Or so it would seem. If this baby came to us to save the entire world, to bring peace to the hearts of humankind, to show us the way of justice and mercy, to heal the sick and raise the dead and feed the five thousand, he’s hardly going to be sleeping like a baby. More like screaming at the sheer horror of human problems, and beside himself with worry on where to begin.

13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Who owns this baby? Maybe the heavenly host. They seem to have a message, and plan. They have a mission statement, and a mandate, and it seems to include everyone. Maybe they own this baby. Giving God the glory, seeking a world made new. Proclaiming that this tiny life will transform everything we know and everything we do seems as close to “owning” the problems of this world and positing a viable solution as we’re going to get, so maybe they own him, or at least can claim to be corporate sponsors.

15And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
16And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
17And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

Who owns this baby? Just a moment ago you were saying to yourself, ‘shepherds? Who would trust shepherds with a baby?’ It seems God says “I will.” And to tell the truth, it makes perfect sense. Who gets around? Who understands the way of the common people? Who is about the least threatening? Shepherds! They own the baby!

It is kind of brilliant, really. Don’t tell Caesar, he’s too busy counting his (your?) denarii to pay any mind, and besides, it’s from his legions that we need liberating. Don’t tell the innkeepers, too few of them. Don’t tell the parents, because they’ll never believe you.

No, tell the shepherds that they now own this baby, and it is their job to fan out and spread the news that each of us owns this baby too, that in every town and every square we can express pride of ownership, and share the Good News that unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and that he, in turn, will own us, and our hearts, forevermore, Amen.


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