O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Isaiah 9:2-4,6-7

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness–
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

I sat in church on Christmas Eve, and like many times before, I sang “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.” I pondered about the meaning of the lights, and the stars in the song and the Christmas story as we have come to know it.

Lights in the sky seem like signs of awe and wonder to us now, but they are a bit vague. We require the commentary of the angels, the shepherds, and Phillip Brooks to know that stars announce a savior and a king. To a contemporary, this would have been very obvious. Caesers announced their births with stories of stars and comments. Coins were struck commemorating the blessing of the heavens on the new ruler.

Political leaders may be better, or they may be worse, but none are messiahs. The fundamental story of the world, is one of scarcity. There is good in the universe, and you want to get it. Have it for yourself. Share it with the people you like. Take it from others.

This story gets told a multitude of ways. And some are in fact more just than others. It is better to imagine a political order in which the poor are given food rather than on in which they starve. But we are still talking about a political order. It is good to talk of hope, but we live in a nation built on the labor of many for the enrichment of few. We can rejigger the percentages of how that transaction takes place, but we are not talking about destroying the system. We might talk about diplomacy, which is well and good. But we have not beaten our swords in to plowshares.

So no matter how many presidents come and go, America will never be the Kingdom of God. Jesus is not an Caesar, nor president, nor any kind of human ruler. The light of Isaiah, the illumination of a Prince of Peace is something entirely differnent than the lights of fame or the hope of a single nation. It is the new story, shining out from the night.

So why the star? Why would the Son of God use the calling card of empire to announce the new story?

Jesus is a king who is not a king. He makes an explicitly imperial claim in order to see that the empire had no business commanding our imagination and our conscience in the first place. To make us feel how different it is to feel the yoke of oppression slip from our shoulders than it is to just have it made lighter. Circumstances might put us under human rulers…and we might be so lucky as to have some power to choose ones who we think best. But no matter how they came to be, they are not about the Kingdom of God. Bound by human concerns, they will act more or less like the author of Samuel puts it…taking soldiers away from their homes, grain from storehouses, and the fruits of our labors. We might owe them taxes, or obedience to laws meant to create order. But we ought to withhold our souls. For human rulers will still tell us the old and sinful story. That someone must be our enemy, that there is not enough to feed the hungry, that we deserve bounty when others lack.

This Christmas, celebrate the birth of a savior. One who tells a new story. One in whom, there is no scarcity of any kind. Who does not discern by borders or nations, creeds or politics, but solely on the endless and generative love of the Triune God.

Blessed be the God who dwells with us, as child and savior.

Amen.

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