The way people shop for babies today is, in a lot of ways, a reflection of what Christmas has become. Millions of babies have been born and have thrived without wipe warmers, which, you can argue with me here but I believe is one of the more superfluous things on a needs list. I’m not a parent, so of course my frame of reference is different. But it stands to reason that there are still babies being born without them that thrive because they are not caught up in the American consumerism driven by “the baby crazy.” The baby crazy is real and it’s deep. In-laws are particularly good at it with their need to one-up the other in terms of gifts. However, the baby is happy with clean clothes, diapers, and perhaps gnawing on your phone (or your finger). The baby is happy with a simple layette.
But we prepare for both holidays, the coming of the Christ child and the coming of our own, in a critical mass of “buy ALL THE THINGS.” Or perhaps it wasn’t that much different in Jesus’ day. I mean, what on earth would a baby want with gold, frankincense, and myrrh? Perhaps frankincense and myrrh are the modern-day wipe warmer. Gold would at least have ensured Jesus’ safe passage home because Joseph and Mary would have had the money to buy all the things they needed to carry a baby on the road. Gold would have been the layette in this scenario, because it was a concrete thing that the baby would actually need in order to survive. Without money, Mary and Joseph would have had to rely on the kindness of strangers to provide for them. Gold gave them the security to provide for themselves and make the trip home more comfortable. It would have been interesting to see what they bought with it……. what the mother and father of a savior bought for their kid as if it was any different than what we would buy for our own. I mean, they already knew their kid was special. Did they treat him any differently? There are so many questions that the Gospel does not answer, like how the gold was used.
In today’s Old Testament reading from Malachi, we are given these words:
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
Perhaps the message of the Gospel is not that Joseph and Mary had physical gold, but that Jesus was the gold. The Jews were hoping that someone would come to save them from their incredible misery at having been kicked out of their homeland and exiled by the Babylonians. We see through the prophets that Jesus fits the description. He is a shoot from Jesse’s tree, a direct descendant of King David, whom the Jews held up as their last great leader. They were convinced that if they could find someone like him, God would be pleased enough to deliver them from their distress. The Gospel writers were sure that Jesus was the answer to their prayers, given the words on a page that turned into “Jesus’s baby pictures.” Jesus was the winning lottery ticket for that sect of Judaism, and it is what separates Christians from modern-day Jews. We believe that we have found the Messiah that the prophets said would come. Other sects of Judaism are still waiting. This is not to pass judgment; everyone can believe what they want. It is just to illustrate why we are different, not to call anyone out.
In order to fulfill the prophecy, Jesus had to go through his own refining moments. In order to become the temperer, he had to be tempered. He got offers from Satan that tempted him and he had to resist… and how is this any different from the hell we create for ourselves today? The point of sending a savior into the world as a human baby was that Jesus could experience what it was like to be fallible and have all of our own flaws and insecurities. He had to distill himself from hundred dollar baby booties and wipe warmers into a layette. He had to distill himself from frankincense and myrrh into a gold that could provide not only for his own family, but for ours.
Luke says this in no less than six different ways. Ever the doctor, his joy was in pragmatic proof and not touchy-feely mysticism. He is the only of the Gospel writers to include a formal introduction, and in today’s reading, it is the proof he thinks everyone needs to accept that Jesus is IT. Jesus is the distillation of hope and joy that we need to be saved from our own iniquities.
He starts with setting Jesus into a Palestinian history.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius
Tiberius was the Roman emperor in power, like the President of the United States.
when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea
Similar to the governor of Maryland in terms of political structure.
Herod was ruler of Galilee
Similar to a mayor.
his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis
Also similar to a mayor.
Lysanias was the ruler of Abilene
Also similar to a mayor. These three regions comprise what is known as the “tetrarch.”
during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas
Caiaphas was the high priest, taking over for Annas. We can compare them to modern-day bishops. However, Annas was no less politically involved in the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews. Think of how much George H.W. Bush influences his sons to get the picture.
the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness
Ahh, here we go. Now we transition from all these powerful rulers into a nobody… an itinerant preacher lost in the woods most of the time.
To me, this proves that God does not call the powerful and mighty (most of the time. King David was a badass.), but the disenfranchised and broken. People that were tempered into greatness rather than starting out that way. People who, by all accounts, did not fit the image that, well, anyone would expect. In this season of Advent, we are called to temper ourselves. To wait for the Christ child by turning into the darkness and seeing how much light we can shine into it, bringing forth our own greatness as we tear away all that stops us.
It is never a command by God or by Jesus. It is an invitation. In these moments, I turn to John, the Gnostic Gospel. It is, for all practical intents and purposes, the Gospel where God is felt rather than known. It is the difference between seeing God with your eyes and seeing God with your heart.
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
Believing in the power that Christ’s light has to offer is acknowledging that as a fallible people, we are attracted to the darkness that hides our sins instead of the light that releases them.
It is a slow, painful tempering process that does not take one Advent of your life, but all of them. To accept light is not one-stop shopping. It is the purchase of the layette rather than the wipe warmer for as long as you are alive. In modern terms, it would go something like this:
In the year 2015, when Barack Obama was the president, and Larry Hogan was the governor of Maryland, and Muriel Bowser was the mayor of DC, and Michael Curry was the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and the dean of National Cathedral was The Very Reverend Gary Hall, God called you.
Buy the layette. Give the baby what he needs. It might not change Jesus, but it will certainly change you.