From the Bishop’s Desk: Allegiance
A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE FROM BISHOP GRAHAM
Brothers and sisters,
The Christmas story is embedded in a story about empire. The Emperor Augustus wants to know how many people live in his empire and where they belong (Luke 2:1). Pregnant as Mary is, she and Joseph go to Bethlehem because that is what the empire demands.
The empire is not always evil, it does not ask always to be loved or even always to be noticed. But it intends to be obeyed.
This story about empire, about power working from a distance to control people’s lives, is familiar still today. People throughout all the world in our time live as they do, go where they go, suffer as they suffer because of decisions made far away by strangers.
We live now under an empire made up of governments and institutions and businesses and media outlets, all empowered by the decisions we make every day. Our empire wants us to be entertained and distracted, wants us to postpone anything painful, wants us to think of ourselves as consumers, wants us to be afraid of other people.
The empire under which we live is not always evil, it does not want to be noticed. But it intends to be universal, and what it cannot control it eventually tries to destroy.
The story of Christmas is always embedded in a story about empire, but empire is not as powerful as the power that Christmas reveals.
In Bethlehem, in a quiet town where average people lived average lives and where a sudden group of travelers had taken every spare room, God was born as a tiny baby. God took on all the weakness of the human experience, right here in this very world. In Bethlehem, a real place you can still go and see, God challenged the powers that be in this world simply by not becoming one of them.
In the baby Jesus God is saying “no” to every form of pretense and pride, “no” to every form of worldliness that thinks it is sufficient for itself. In the baby Jesus, we see the lengths to which God will go to get our attention, the passion God has for being one of us.
God is at work here claiming the world. And God’s claim is based not on the power to coerce or to control us but on the power that shapes us with our consent into walking, talking images of God’s love, for the sake of our neighbors and for the sake of the world.
Our stories are always part of the Christmas story. At Christmas we are always invited again to remember where our true allegiance lies.
In Bethlehem, where the celebration of this Lord is still surrounded by constraint and persecution; in Washington, D.C., where self-importance and frustration both seem to be part of the air we breathe; in both our places* we cry out for God to show us how to be brave and trusting. In both our places we cry out for God to remake our world by remaking us first.
May God bless us and all the world in these holy days, and may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus now and forever. Amen
*This Christmas Message is excerpted from the sermon shared by Bishop Graham during the 8th annual Bethlehem Prayer Service which took place via simulcast at both Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem on Saturday, December 20, 2014. Read a full transcript of the sermon (link to 2-page pdf file) and also view the service booklet and worship service video (link to www.cathedral.org/worship/worshipArchive.shtml).