Thursday, December 20, 2012

Counted, but Not Fully Accounted For

Luke 2:1 - The powerful Roman Empire wanted to take inventory of its power. So they required that all the inhabitants of their world, return to the home town, to register. Register so that Rome would know that you existed. Rome had to know if one existed, so that they would know that you could pay taxes. That was the real purpose for the census, to count heads and to make sure they were getting all the tax revenue that was coming to them. Caesar Augustus took a census. He wanted to take a look at the numbers. How many people do we have in the empire, how many do we control? How many do we rule over? How many owe us money? So they counted. The numbers were important. While this massive count was going on, a hard working carpenter and good citizen named Joseph took his family to his hometown of Bethlehem. The city was packed, for the required homecoming. It was a homecoming of sorts, as people that had moved away were required to return home. So in Bethlehem were people Joseph hadn’t seen in years. Back in Bethlehem, back to the hood for the census. And he with all the inhabitants of Bethlehem came to be counted. Sometimes I like being counted. Like when I vote, I like to know that my vote counts. I like to know I’m being counted. In fact whenever I have an opinion about something, I like to know mine is counted taken into consideration. When people are handing out pecan pie for dessert, I like to be counted. Sometimes I like to be counted. When I go to lunch with friends, I like it when there is a chair there for me. I like to be counted for dinners. When I go to my kid's performances or events at school and they want to know how many parents are in the audience, I want to be counted. I want them to know that I’m there, sometimes I lift two hands. When I was in school and the teacher would ask, how many read your assignment last night. I liked to raise my hand, look around with a shot of superiority, and be counted. That didn’t happen very often. Sometimes I like to be counted. One September, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of 9/11 a human flag was assembled on Mount Trashmore. It was a Monday at about 9:00am, JT and I went. We were part of the second red stripe. We held a red 4’ square. We were five rows from the bottom, and four from the end. When they counted how many were there I wanted to be counted. Sometimes I like to be counted. Some times you like to be counted too. You like to know there’s a chair at the table for you, you like to know that you’re voted counts, that your opinion is taken into consideration, that your presence matters. But sometimes I don’t like being counted. Sometimes I get mad when people tell me to take a number and seat. Sometimes I don’t like it when people ask me for my account number before they address me by name. Sometimes I like to duck when people are counting heads. Some times when I’m told to take number...I take two and double my chances. Sometimes I don’t like being counted. Some thing about being counted...some times it makes me feel kind of empty though does it you? Being counted kind of doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t feel quite appropriate. I mean who likes to be a number. Some people quit jobs, and they tell us it’s because they felt like a number. And we all know what that means. Some people get disgruntled with churches because they feel like they are just a number. Being counted can feel like being used. We’ve all been in situations where it seemed like people were more concerned with who wasn’t there, than the fact that we were there. I’ve been both criminal and victim in that deal. And it doesn’t feel good. That happens at Christmas gatherings doesn’t it. Sometimes we gather, and all everyone can talk about is who isn’t there. Who could have come but didn’t, because they’re too selfish or lazy or whatever. Sometimes worse than being counted is, to be in the room but not counting. I bet you don’t like that much either. I don’t like being counted some times. I bet that’s how Joseph felt. He probably didn’t like being counted by Rome. He probably felt used. All of his friends and family probably felt a little like property. Because the empire was only interested in “who are we missing.” Like counting subjects...funny thing about counting can make you feel like an object. I bet that is how Joseph felt, like an object of Rome. He and his wife and the baby, they were counted. But didn’t feel like they much counted. People still like to do a lot of counting at Christmas. At the Christmas play we like to count the wise men, to make sure it’s biblically accurate and has three. People like to count gifts. And if their gift count is less than another’s, the its is perceived that the other is loved more. They think it means they count, or don’t count as much. Parents count how much other parents spend on their children, and say rude things about them. People count pounds at Christmas too. They have given up on counting calories. A lot of counting still goes on for Christmas. Retailers like to count at Christmas. They rely so heavily on our materialism to survive. They depend on our indulgence to make it through the trying days of seasonal change. So they count. They calculate revenue, the count sales, they count shoppers, they count profit margin. A lot of counting goes on at Christmas time. There was a lot of counting going on the night of the first Christmas. Rome was counting. People were being counted. And the census was going well. The numbers were up. Leading indicators suggested Rome was strong. But numbers can lie. Well numbers don’t lie, but people do. I think that’s why I don’t always like being counted. The numbers didn’t tell the whole story. You see that night in Bethlehem the numbers didn’t tell the whole story. You see according to the census there were two in Joseph’s family. But a baby was I guess that counts as three. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. You see the census told Rome how many were in the kingdom, it told them how many were in Joseph’s family...but the numbers didn’t tell the story. According to the numbers there were just three. Nothing significant, nice small family. Rome’s census could count the birth of Jesus, but it could not account for the one who was born. Because as anyone who has ever been in a meeting knows, it’s not how many are far a decision, it matter who many are for it. I guess what I’m saying is that what was significant on Christmas night, was not how many were in Joseph’s family, or how many were in Bethlehem that evening. You see counting, could not account for WHO was born that night. ON the spreadsheet he was just one. But he was so much more than that. Each year we come back to Christmas. And we gather for Christmas eve, and in our homes, and remember that the world can’t fully account for the impact of Jesus’ life death and resurrection. While the numbers are impressive....millions of devoted followers of Jesus all over the world. But the numbers, as impressive as they are, don’t account fully for who Jesus was, and who he is. And so we come to Christmas eve, and we light the candles, and we sing the songs, and marvel. Because who he was and what he has done can’t be calculated. There is not a spreadsheet long enough, or calculator complex enough that it can explain what this baby has meant to our world. The lives changed, the hope that he has restored, the strength that he has given, the goodness that he has brought to this world. Nations have risen and fallen because of him, people have been healed because of him, and relationships have been restored because of him. All of this, from just a “1” on a Roman spreadsheet. We come again and again and marvel, because the impact of his life can’t be counted. The empire had no idea what the child born in Bethlehem would accomplish, what he would teach us about love, righteousness, goodness, faith, sacrifice, and victory. He taught the world a side of those things it had never known before, and would have never figured out on its own. All from just a number 1, on a Roman Spreadsheet. He could be counted but not fully accounted for. No one here knew what his life would become. That’s why there was no room for him. That is why no special arrangements were made for him, no VIP accommodations. Just a feeding trough on the backside of a Bethlehem inn. No one here could imagine what he would become, how could we? But heaven took an accurate account. Heaven knew what he was and what he would be, and what he would make possible for the earth’s inhabitants. And the announced it publicly on the first Christmas night “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior is born to you: he is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths lying in a manger.” ..... “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Lk. 2. 10-14) It wasn’t how many were in Bethlehem or in Rome. I’m sure there were other babies born that night...but there was none like him. There never has been, there never will be. It wasn’t how many were born, it was Who was born. The inventory, the census missed that. Here’s the strange twist to this story. There was an important inventory being taken in the days of Caesar Augustus. But it wasn’t a physical inventory of heads. No in those days, a spiritual inventory was being taken. And the one taking inventory wasn’t Caesar, it was God. An inventory, a census of the hearts and souls of human beings was being done. And to those whose hearts were found hungry for truth and righteousness and redemption, well to them good news was headed their way. To those who were too at home in this world, too at ease with its wisdom and wickedness, well to them the news wasn’t so good. There was a census being taken. But the important census was being taken by God...and he is still taking it. He is still searching for hearts that long to be made whole, lives that long to be restored, people who have sinned and who want to be forgiven. And to those who receive him and believe in his name, they find themselves in the Book of Life...the book that lists all those who have become children of God. We discover that in God’s book we count. The inventory began during the reign of Caesar August, in a manager in Bethlehem. The numbers are in, and the result is clear, there is just one appropriate response Jesus: Lord, we greet Thee, Born this happy morning, O Jesus! for evermore be Thy name adored. Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. God, born as a baby and became a man- we FALL DOWN BEFORE HIM AND WORSHIP HIM AS GOD. Whether you do or whether you don’t, the census has begun. Amen

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