While Quirinius was Governor (Christmas Eve Sermon)

Every Christmas Eve for the last ten years, my sermons have been odd. They’ve been dialogue sermons between me and Kermit the Frog. (You see, I discovered about twelve years ago that I have the ability to do an uncanny Kermit the Frog impression, and then eventually discovered it’s a spiritual gift.) This is the 2022 Christmas Eve sermon. Kermit’s lines are in bold; mine are in regular type.

You might find it better to just watch the sermon here. (The sermon begins around 44:40.)

Merry Christmas, Prince of Peace!

Merry Christmas, Kermit. So glad you’re here. It’s just not Christmas at Prince of Peace without you, you know?

How many years has it been now?

Ten years.

Really? Wow. I feel old. So, umm, what should we talk about this year?

Christmas!

Yes, I know that. But, what should we talk about specifically? How about the shepherds?

We already talked about them a few years ago.

How about Mary?

Yep.

I know. Let’s talk about the angels.

Already did that too.

Huh.

Yeah.

I know! I know who we should talk about.

Who?

Quirinius.

Who?

Quirinius. I always hear you say, “it was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” So, tell me everything you know about Quirinius.

He was governor of Syria.

That’s all you know?

Well, yeah. He wasn’t really a priority in my seminary education. Wait, hold on. Let me get my phone. You know, it’s hard to do this with my left hand.

Why, where’s your right hand?

(pause)

What?

Okay. Says here that the Roman emperor made him the governor of Syria in the year 6 AD. And says that he conducted a census of the whole region.

Oh, just like in the gospel story. Hey, I bet I know why Luke mentioned him in the story.

Why?

As a way of telling people when it happened. I mean, thanks to the gospels, we know that Jesus was born while King Herod and Governor Quirinius were both in office. That would probably narrow it down to a few years.

Wait, I didn’t say anything about King Herod.

Right, but he’s in the story too, isn’t he? Didn’t the wise men talk to him?

Oh yeah, that’s in Matthew’s version of the story. But the trouble is King Herod…hold on a second. Let me look something up. (Look at phone again.)

(to the congregation) Kids and their phones, am I right?

(Found it.) Yeah, that’s what I thought. Herod died in 4 BC, ten years before Quirinius became governor of Syria. So they were never in office at the same time.

Wait, doesn’t BC mean “before Christ”?

Yeah.

So Herod died in 4 BC? How does that work?

Well, the funny thing is that most scholars think that Jesus was actually born around 6 BC.

So Jesus was born six years before he was born?

Yeah. Well, no.

Okay, let me get this straight. Jesus was born six years before he was born, when Herod was king. And then he was born ten years later, when Quirinius was governor.

Umm…

Is that what “born again” means?

Ha ha. No. But yeah, the way Luke tells the story, Quirinius was governor of Syria, and the way Matthew tells his story, Herod was king of Judea. Which never happened at the same time.

It’s weird to think that the Bible is wrong about things.

Oh, I don’t know if it’s wrong.

What do you mean? One of the gospels is wrong about this.

Think about it this way. I wrote a book called Darkwater.

Yes, I know. You talk about it all the time.

It’s a memoir of my life as someone who has a strong faith, yet also lives with depression.

Yes, I know. You talk about it all the time.

Well, most of the book is written as a narrative, the story of my life, from age 11 through 41. Somebody asked me recently how I could remember all the details of things that happened to me when I was a teenager.

Yeah, that’s a good point. How could you?

I couldn’t. I invented a lot of the details as I wrote it.

You lied?

No, I don’t think so. What I did was tell a true story about my own experience. It’s all true in the sense that things like that happened. It’s all true in the sense that it tells the emotional story, the spiritual story of my life, the story of the way I have experienced depression. And the story of how I’ve experienced my faith. So it’s true. It’s my story, my true story, even if some of the details aren’t historically accurate.

Well, you weren’t really trying to write a historical document, right? You were trying to share that there is always hope, even in the darkest times. Right?

Exactly. And the best way to do that was to tell a story. It’s all true to my experience, even if some of the details are a bit off from history.

Did you just bring that up so you could sell copies of your book to the people here on Christmas Eve?

(pause)

You have some in your office, don’t you?

(pause)

Think about it like this. Remember your first movie, The Muppet Movie? What was that about?

Well, it was the story of how the Muppets first met, and tried to share our message of joy with the world.

But was that really how it happened? I mean, in the movie, you drive cross-country to Hollywood in a rainbow colored bus trying to escape someone who wanted you to be the spokesfrog for his Frog’s Legs restaurant. Did that happen historically?

Umm…

I mean, if we were to look historically, wouldn’t it be more like a lot of boring meetings between Jim Henson and studio executives?

Well, I guess, but…that would be a terrible movie. And it wouldn’t really tell the story of what we were doing. It wouldn’t really tell the story of who the Muppets were, and how we made millions of people happy.

Right. What would be a good way of telling that story?

Well, The Muppet Movie would be a really good way, actually!

Right! Which means that in one sense, The Muppet Movie is more true than the story of all those boring meetings. Even if it’s not historically accurate.

Huh. I guess it is.

It’s the same way with the Christmas story in the Bible. It doesn’t matter what year Jesus was born. It doesn’t matter whether Quirinius or Herod historically played a part or not. The Bible tells us the story of God, and the story of us. The story is true, in a really deep way, even if the details aren’t historically accurate. Because the writers of the Bible were never trying to write a historically accurate document. They were trying to tell us that God loves us.

Oooh! I think I get it!

Go for it.

You’re saying that the Christmas story is true in a better way.

Oooh, I like it. Go on.

It tells people that God came into the world.

Yes! And it tells us that when God did this, it was so amazing and so earth-shattering that wise men came from thousands of miles away

Yes, and even the angels couldn’t stop themselves from singing about it.

Yes, and it tells us that God comes to us in precisely the place we’d never expect, a poor family trying to find a place to stay in an unfamiliar town.

Which means God really loves us, even when things are rough.

Oooh, yeah. That’s a good one.

And instead of just telling us those things …

…Matthew and Luke showed us. They wrote stories about it, because stories touch us at such a deep level.

Because at the deepest level, that’s what we are. Stories.

I think maybe that’s true.

And you know what else? I think I know when it happened. I think I know exactly when Jesus was born. I think I know exactly when God came into the world.

Really? When?

Now. Right now.

Oh, that’s beautiful. Yes. Right now. God comes into our stories right now, and is born in us.

And that’s what the Christmas story is all about!

Could be. Could be, Kermit.

There’s just one thing.

What’s that?

I really thought we’d end up singing a song about Quirinius before this sermon was over.

Not this year, Kermit.

Maybe next year?

We’ll see. Maybe.

Alright then. Merry Christmas, Johnsonville!

Merry Christmas, Kermit.

Featured image: Mary and Joseph register for the census before Governor Quirinius. Byzantine mosaic at the Chora Church, Constantinople 1315–20.

One thought on “While Quirinius was Governor (Christmas Eve Sermon)

  1. I, a believer in Christ’s miracles, like to picture Jesus enjoying a very healthy belly-shaking laugh over a good [albeit clean] joke with his disciples, now and then. Imagine the divine with a good, open sense of humor!

    Too many of us insist upon creating the Creator’s nature in our own fallible and too-often angry, vengeful image; for example, proclaiming via publicized protests that ‘God hates’ such-and-such group of people, etcetera.

    Often being the most vocal, they make very bad examples of Christ’s fundamental message, especially to the young and impressionable. It’s largely why I place a higher standard on those in public life who claim to be Christian yet behave nothing like Christ nor his basic teachings.

    I’m talking about Jesus through his teachings and practices, not pragmatism, politics or conservative/liberal goals. Can anyone seriously imagine Jesus rolling his eyes at the likes of Trump and his grotesque ideology/extremism, and then sigh, ‘Oh well, I’m against everything the man stands for, but what can you do when you dislike even more some of what his political competition stands for’?

    Ironically, Christ’s teachings/practices largely reflect(ed) the primary component of socialism — do not hoard morbidly superfluous wealth in the midst of poverty. He clearly would not tolerate the accumulation of tens of billions of dollars by individual people — especially while so many others go hungry and homeless.

    Like

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