The Inverting Incarnation

But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

—Luke 2:1-20

Have you ever felt as though the world was upside down? In the reading for today, we begin with a decree from the most powerful person in the world. He wants to number all who live in his empire. People gather up their children and make arrangements to begin the journey to be counted. I imagine it was no easy task—especially for Mary.

Joseph and Mary are among the travelers. She is pregnant and about to give birth to her first born child at any moment. Can you imagine traveling like that? There is no room at the inn for them when they seek shelter for the night. Their situation is much different than Emperor Augustus, who compelled so many people to travel by simply saying a few words.

Some distance away, there were shepherds in the fields watching over their sheep. Perhaps they were keeping count of their flocks to ensure none were injured or strayed away. When the angels appeared and shared the good news, the shepherds were frightened. The angels told the shepherds to not be afraid because a savior is born. The phrases the angels use echo phrases often used to describe Emperor Augustus: “god,” “lord,” and “savior.” Can you imagine how upside down this might have seemed to the shepherds? How odd would it have been to hear that a lord and savior is coming as a baby, wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a dirty old manger. The angels describe a king born in a situation that is quite the opposite of the current emperor’s way of life. The angels were announcing the birth of one who would turn the world upside down with his teachings and way of life.

The shepherds found the child, Mary and Joseph and shared what the angels told them. The scene is full of meaning. The child was wrapped in bands of cloth—foreshadowing his death. He was laying in a manger, a food bowl for livestock, foreshadowing the spiritual food he offers both in his teachings and in the bread and wine we receive in remembrance of him. Everyone around was amazed that a king was born that night, but Mary’s reaction was different. She knew her son’s story would hold so much more meaning than they could comprehend in that moment. And our lives were forever changed.

***

Angela Henderson, M.Div. currently serves as the Unitarian Universalist campus minister at UC Davis. She graduated with her Master of Divinity degree from Claremont School of Theology in 2010 and is a candidate for ministry.

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