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If a newspaper had covered Jesus' birth, what would the headline be?

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CHRISTMAS EVE

Luke 2:1-20

On the front page of Tuesday’sWisconsin State Journal, one headline reads, “Born Anew.” The story is about the multi-million dollar upgrades at thebirthing centersof two Madison hospitals.

The story by …begins:

With three-head showers, double beds and chocolates atop plush pillows, rooms at St. Mary’s Hospital’s remodeled birthing center, which opens Wednesday,will feel more like a hotel than a hospital, administrators say.

Meriter Hospital is also upgrading its birthing center, where expanded rooms will feature soaking tubs, decorative glass and lighted soffits…

Later in the story we learn that, at St. Mary’s,Double beds with memory foam replace standard twin beds. Showers include a bench with a massage head. A warming light above a large sink will keep infants warm during their first bath. New moms can savor Belgian chocolates after a “celebration dinner” of beef tenderloin, baked salmon or fettuccine alfredo at a bistro-like table for two.

Some of the renovation costs will go to providing a higher level of care, particularly for neo-natal babies. I also understand that, while hospitals provide health care services, they are also businesses – businesses in a very competitive market. So, like other businesses they need to do things to attract customers. But I couldn’t help be struck by the contrast between the birthing environment provided by these two hospitals and the birthing environment described in Luke.

Luke’s birthing story is much different than what one could imagine at St. Mary’s or Meriter. The lead in Luke’s story belongs to Emperor Augustus and his decree for a census and Quirinius, a local governor, also receives mention. But these are not the most important details of this story.

There is a pregnant couple on the road because of an imperial decree. Since they are away from home, they must seek refuge at an inn. The inn, unfortunately, is already booked. So, when the child is born, he is placed in a manger, a trough where animals eat. And this detail – the detail of the manger – is not one among many. According to this storyteller, it is the most significant detail of this environment, because it is mentioned three times.

She wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn…

And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger...

So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in a manger…

This child is not born in animperial palace, or in a governor’s mansion, much less in a fine hospital. He is born – Luke wants us to make no mistake – where animals are kept. He is laid where animals come for food. His crib stands where animals do their thing. It is simple. It is humble. It is down-to-earth. And if his crib is down-to-earth, then so is he. His birth is for all people.

Perhaps that is the significance also that this birth is first announced to shepherds. Anybody can get a job as a shepherd. They are considered lazy and dirty. And because they work in such close proximity to the dirt and doings of animals, they would never be welcome in any church. They are considered unclean for God.

Yet they are the first ones to learn of this birth. The Messiah of God is plopped down right in their midst. While the high and mighty continue to think they are running the show, they are in only puppets in God’s plans. They are only set up for the real action of this story. It is God who is in control. And God’s Messiah is born in a manger, attended by animals and announced to shepherds.

If this birth is for shepherds, then it is also for us. It is also for you. You may not have walked in tonight with the dirt of animals on your boots. But you may be carrying other things. You may be carrying on your shoulders the weight of financial burdens. You may be carrying in your gut the gloom of not knowing what the future holds for you or for the world. You may be carrying in your heart the darkness of living without a loved one. If so, this birth is for you.

This child is plopped down in the middle of your life. When you feel as though someone else is in charge of the world – someone who cares nothing for you – the birth of thischild in a mangermeans that there is someone at work, even if you can’t quite see it yet, even if your are not ready to sing with the angels, even if you are not ready to rush off with the shepherds. There is someone at work in your life in the simplest, most humble way. And this work of for your salvation.

Do not be afraid! I bring you good news of great joy for all people – to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord!

It is hard to tell what the headline might be for Luke’s story. It might simply be, “It’s a boy!” or, “It’s a Messiah!” But if you ask John, the headline would be the same as it was for the State Journal article: “Born Anew.”

In John’s account of the incarnation, which we will read during the candle-lighting at the close of tonight’s service, there is no manger. There is no Mary and Joseph. There isn’t even a baby. But there are children.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to becomechildren of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

This is not only the story of the birth of one child. It is the beginning of the story of our rebirth. For those who believed he was who he said he was, he gave power for new birth, so that they are born not of human act or human will or human desire, but of God. This is not merely thebirth of Jesus, the birth of the Messiah. It is our birth. It is our birth as children of God. It is the birth of our real selves.

And that is good news of great joy for all of us!