Sermon for December 15th, 2019
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
O Night Bovine
I said the cow, all white and red I gave Him my manger for His bed I gave Him my hay to pillow His head I said the cow, all white and red
Ok, people. First of all, let's get a few things straight. I heard your song. It's nice and all; the kids are cute. But I am NOT--never have been and never will be--a cow. That's just udderly false. I mean, seriously... you see any udders here? Didn't think so.
I am an ox. A Bovine. A steer. A bullocks. Or, if you're into scientific classifications: Animalia Chordata Mammalia Theria Eutheria Artiodactyla Bovidae Bovinae Bos taurus taurus. Just don't call me a cow, ok?
But the song is right about a few things. This IS my manger. And you are in MY stable. You're welcome. Come in. Sit down. Have a drink. Thanks for knocking. What's that? You didn't knock? Oh don't worry...no one knocks anymore. It appears my stable is quite the place to be, these days. We've got sheep, donkeys camels, shepherds, carpenters, angels, wise men, kings, and a big bright star overhead that screams, "Come on over!" halfway across the continent.
But it wasn't always like this. It used to be a nice, warm, quiet stable--just me, my manger, my hay; those two love birds up there in the rafters; from time to time, maybe a horse passing through. I like horses. They're quiet. They keep to themselves, unlike...donkeys. Donkeys move in, and there goes the whole neighborhood.
Personally, I blame the governor. It's always the politicians. Governor Quirinius... What kind of Roman fool implements a census by sending people away from their homes and property to be registered... in the town of their ancestors? Everyone knows that people are not the most important thing being counted in a census. It's the livestock, of course.
You seem surprised. What does your government count each year, in order to tax you? Is it you? Or is it your wealth?
That's right. The measure of a man is not what he does, but how much he owns. My inkeeper owns me. It's not much, but it's something. I, in turn, own this manger, this hay. Well, except for that one time when I didn't... [chews thoughtfully for awhile]
Long before coins and checks and credit cards, we cattle were the currency of choice. Numbers were invented to count us. The first letter of most alphabets represented the horned head of an ox. Of course the Romans went and turned it upside down. They never could tell their heads from their tails, those Romans.
So you see, I'm kind of a big deal. In the cradle of civilization, I was revered as Gugalana, the Bull of Heaven. In Egypt I was Mnevis, the bovine manifestation of the Sun god, Ra. To the Greeks I was Minotaur, immortalized in the stars as the constellation Taurus. To the Northmen, I was audumla, the world-cow who licked mankind into existence. And here in Israel, I was known as Ba'al. I was the golden calf the people worshipped when Moses went up the mountain.
Moses. He had some kind of a beef with golden calves (still not sure what that was all about). Mmmmmm...We never had much stake (steak) in Israel after that incident. Still--the point is, we cattle are outstanding in our field. Well, except when we're inside, standing in our stables. You get the picture.
So the governor had his census, and the people came to Bethlehem. Most came by foot, a few rode on their animals. We had extra company in the stable, but nothing compared to all the racket inside the inn. That is...until the donkey showed up. I told you donkeys were trouble, didn't I?
The donkey brought the carpenter, and the carpenter brought the girl. Someone forgot to explain to those two the difference between an inn and a stable, apparently. I heard them say something about "no room at the inn" but of course there's always room at the inn...for the right price. Now if they had brought a few heifers instead of that donkey--well, 50 cents and a donkey might buy you a cup of coffee here in Bethlehem, especially if you hid the donkey around the corner.
It was obvious that the carpenter was poor. And it was obvious that the girl was pregnant. And it was REALLY obvious that no one was getting any sleep in the stable that night. But at least one of us was going to get a good supper [starts to eat hay].
I've been thinking about that golden calf. The people brought their jewelry to the high priest, to make the calf, and they gave it to him. Willingly! It doesn't make sense. The part about the calf, that's understandable. But the measure of a man is what he owns. And men don't give up their gold, any more than an ox gives up his manger or his hay.
When the baby was born, I gave up my manger and my hay. What else was I supposed to do? It's not like I could have assembled a pack-n-play with these cloven hooves! The girl held her baby for a long time, and so did the carpenter...but they were tired. I was tired. And I wasn't about to let the donkey look after the little guy. He was born in MY stable, after all. So we laid him in the manger on a bed of hay.
You know that song about "the cattle are lowing, the baby awakes?" Yeah, I didn't wake the baby. Most likely it was the 500-member choir of singing angels that did the trick. They did't knock either. A few nights later, it was the shepherds, shouting and singing, and shouting and dancing, and shouting, and praising God. They called the baby Emmanuel--God with us. One shepherd gave up his sheep for the baby. The sheep gave up his wool. For what it's worth, wool and hay don't exactly complement each other [spits out hay].
A few weeks later, came the kings on their camels. Rich men, who owned much. They gave the baby gold and precious spices, a sign of their great wealth. They gave all these things...willingly. They knelt before him at the manger, and they were gone. [chews more hay]
I've been thinking about that golden calf again. I think I know why the people gave up their gold. They wanted a god they could see, and touch.
Of course, it didn't work out so well for them. When Moses came back again, he took the golden calf and ground it into powder. It was the most expensive ground beef in all history. Then he scattered the powder on the water and made the people drink it. You know what kind of beverage that was? De-calf-inated! That's right. I'm here all night, folks. No, seriously...I'm here...all night.
The people gave up their gold because they wanted a god they could see and touch. A god who is with us. They wanted Emmanuel.
How many cattle would you give to see God face to face? To know, to really know, that God is with you? How much gold?
The baby is gone now, with his mother and the carpenter. But for a time, he was here with us. Emmanuel. I saw him. I touched him.
Like shepherds and kings, I gave him everything dear to me; everything I had. My manger, my hay. My stable.
Perhaps the measure of man and ox is not how much he owns...but how much he gives away.
Perhaps these things were never really mine to begin with.
It isn't quiet in the stable, but it's still warm. The manger is wide, and there's plenty of hay. There's room here for everyone--stay as long as you like. You are welcome in this place. [exit]