Ruler of our Hearts, Ruler of the World, by Pastor Kinsey
Let me just say how pleased I am to see you all tonight. Here I was afraid everyone would chose to drive to their nearest ‘selected theater’, to see the movie, ‘The Interview.’ This is great! I’m happy to find that Christmas Eve services are still, at least as popular as Seth Rogan’s brand of “raunchy, R-rated comedies,” in the words of Art House Theater owner Greg Laemmle.
Actually, I have to admit to feeling a bit of the American spirit of rebellion, when my own friends and family were denouncing the film, saying stuff like, ‘what were they thinking, of course this film should be shut down!’ To which I replied, ‘what?’ ‘Of course it has the right to be shown’ – not that I would ever waste my money on it – but ‘have you forgotten Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” or the long running, “The Producers,” by Mel Brookes, not to mention the Three Stooges and South Park?’ But of course, The Interview is perhaps the first satire about assassination of a living dictator, still in power!
So, does that mean I recommend seeing it? No, not really, and not just for its raunchiness, or the bad reviews! But because the joke isn’t all that funny, and I would rather recommend real Art House releases whose quality is capable of making us reflect on the real circumstances in which we live, and the real hope and hurt we feel.
And by the way, I applaud the President for pointing this out before leaving on his Christmas vacation to Hawaii – though I disagree with his vindictive threat to counter-attack the repressive and isolated country. And not just because no one knows for certain if the hackers – calling themselves, Guardians of the Peace – really came from North Korea or not, but because it’s not really in the spirit of our American ideals, much less the spirit of Christmas. Instead of saying, …we promise to respond proportionally, in the language of ‘an eye for an eye,’ ever ramping up in endless war posturing… What if the President would have used it as an occasion for a Christmas pardon, like the annual White House Thanksgiving “turkey” pardon?! We will not respond to this petty attack. On behalf of Sony Pictures, we are sorry if you took offense. But this is only a movie, after all! Albeit, a satirically tasteless movie – that I know I wouldn’t have liked either. But this is not the stuff over which we go to war, or attack one another’s people.
And then perhaps behind the scenes, Mr. Obama could have offered a holiday shipment of food for those who are going hungry in North Korea, instead of a public tit-for-tat. Then, he could get on with his vacation, and thereby give less free advertising to a thumbs-down rated movie.
The story that Luke’s gospel tells about the birth of Jesus is all about this same jockeying for power, this tit-for-tat, this insular, isolated, inflated sense of ego, and entitled reign of calculated control, by the ruler of the entire known world, and ultimately about, who does really rule the world. Emperor Augustus also called himself “Son of God!” He thought of himself as a kind of deity, worthy of praise and worship. He was all réal-politic, quantifying every resource, even every last person able to serve him, by ordering this census count. And so it would seem that even Mary and Joseph, and the newborn Jesus, were at Emperor Augustus’ mercy. Like refugees in flight, they had no choice but to travel some 90 miles from home by foot, in the final days of Mary’s pregnancy, her water about to break.
And so, there is no room for the new-born, Son of God in Rome, so they go to Nazareth. There is no room for them in Nazareth, because they’re commanded to go to Bethlehem. And, there was no room for them there, in Bethlehem, and city of David, from which Joseph was descended, so “Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger,” a feeding trough for the animals, “because there was no place for them in the inn.” Jesus was well acquainted with rejection and sorrow.
But on the other hand, “It is no use saying that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ,” as Dorothy Day has said. “Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts. But now it is, with the voice of our contemporaries, that [Christ] speaks, with the eyes of store clerks, factory workers, and children, that he gazes; with the hand of office workers, slum dwellers, and suburban housewives, that he gives. It is with the feet of soldiers and [the Homeless], that he walks, and with the heart of anyone in need, that he longs for shelter... It is not because these people remind us of Christ, but because they are Christ, asking us to find room for him, exactly as he did at the first Christmas.”
That there's no room in the inn is not incidental to the story; this is what the Messiah is. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests;” as Jesus said, “but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” While John, in the 1st chapter of his gospel(v.9) says, “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” It’s in the nature of the Messiah that he is always the one, consciously or unconschiously, left out. “He's the stone the builders rejected.”
The Savior of the world was born and enthroned in a manger. This is the counter-cultural and astounding announcement at Christmas. The newborn Savior is descended from a shepherd boy, David, who became a king. His throne is a lowly manger. His parents unwed.
He will be wise, but not pen any Proverbs himself; he will be a prophet, though greater, a subversive truth-teller fulfilling and embodying his own predictions; he will be the Son of God, and ruler of an army of disciples who also themselves, are children of God; he will reign over all the world, but with non-violent weapons of hope and truth and love, that conquers all.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us; said Isaiah…
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting [Parent], Prince of Peace.
Jesus’ birth matters because it gives meaning to our own lives. Without him we don’t know what it means to have a world with the possibility of peace and justice. Without him we don’t know how to forgive and to love. But also we begin to understand why life can be so fragile and at times dangerous. Why we have loss and heartache. As Seminary Professor Karen Lewis has said, “Jesus’ birth cannot only speak of the joy of new life. It has to speak into the paradox of what life then entails -- the simultaneity of its wonder and fragility, its re-creation and the need for resurrection, its joy and profound pain.”
Our Savior, enthroned in his manger, is the Son of God, and not any other emperor’s in the world. We cannot wait for our Presidents, democratically elected or not, to decide our fate, claiming power that is rightfully ours, which is gifted to us from our newborn king. The world is too wonderful and too fragile for us to wait. Christ is with us, today, asking for room in our hearts and in our lives – Christ is with us in the face of our neighbors in need. And through us – the children of God – God is changing the world and inaugurating the kingdom here among us. For to us is born this day, a savior who is Christ the Lord.