Registered 报名上册Sermon passage: (Luke 2:1-12) Spoken on: December 20, 2020
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Luke
Date: 20th Dec 2020
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
Peace be with you brothers and sisters. In a pandemic year like this, it is a stark reminder of how interconnected we actually are to one another. Living in Singapore, we might be used to thinking that the migrant workers can be rather isolated from the everyday lives of the rest of the community, until the covid situation demonstrated the danger of such negligence. What goes on in the dormitories affects each one of us as well. At the other end of the spectrum, the tai tai dance clubs in Hong Kong revealed that the rich and famous are similarly not protected from the ere. The fact that the virus can be transmitted from the wet markets of a Chinese city to the most powerful people in the White House demonstrates conclusively that we are more connected than we realize. We may think that the extremely rich and the extremely poor may live in separate worlds, and perhaps society has subconsciously shaped our minds to think like that, but in reality we are one humanity in God’s creation.
Our Christmas story is also framed within the setting of such extreme contrasts. On one hand, you have baby Jesus born in a manger, in the city of David, in a province far removed from Rome, the center of power. Christmas is the epitome of a nobody coming into this world. Whether in terms of politics or statistics, the birth of such a baby should be purely insignificant. On the other hand, Luke tells us that this peculiar situation only arose because of the decree from Caesar Augustus to conduct a census. Why else would Joseph and a heavily pregnant Mary make the 90 mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, to such a place ill-suited for delivery?  In crafting the Christmas story in this way, Luke demonstrated how the decision from the very top affects the lives of the nobodies in distant lands. Yet in the gospel, we will also come to realize that this supposed nobody will in turn shake the seat of power back in Rome one day. Like a commentator explaining the situation in a high level game of Chess or Go, Luke has revealed to us the connections between our Christmas story of humble beginnings and the political climate of the world at large.
At the top of the power pyramid, Caesar Augustus was taking a measure of his world. He wanted to count his people. A census was done either for the purpose of taxation or military service. When you are registered, it meant that you belonged to the Roman Empire. You had to pay your taxes to build for Rome. And you might even be drafted to fight for Rome. The census was a blatant political statement that the world belonged to Rome, and to Caesar specifically. Yet because of his imperial decree, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David. More importantly, Jesus is now registered as the child of Joseph, the descendent of David. Why is being connected to David so critical to the identity of Jesus?
We are reminded of angel Gabriel’s words to Mary: 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end. 31 你要怀孕生子，可以给他起名叫耶稣。 32 他要为大，称为至高者的儿子；主神要把他祖大卫的位给他， 33 他要做雅各家的王，直到永远；他的国也没有穷尽。 In a scenario where Caesar Augustus thought that he was the one on the throne, the Christmas story reminded us that ultimately Jesus will be the one on the eternal throne. But for now, the story has humble beginnings. Jesus is now connected to David, through Joseph and Bethlehem, but the Savior and Lord is born in a manger instead of a royal palace.
Why did Joseph make the effort to be registered? Besides the fact that one would be heavily penalized for escaping or fighting the census, it is the same reason as today: you need to be registered for basic human rights and survival purposes. You need to be counted in order to receive the provisions and protection from the Roman Empire. Sadly, you have to be registered in order to be recognized as a person in the eyes of the government. Otherwise, you are almost non-human, since you are nonexistent in the system. We are used to the heart-warming Christmas image of baby Jesus in a manger surrounded by love.
But as I mature, I begin to notice the scandalous undertones of a baby technically born out of wedlock. Luke does not say how far in advance from Jesus' birth did Joseph leave for Bethlehem (v.4), nor why he took Mary with him. It is possible that he used the emperor's order as a means to remove Mary from the possible gossip and emotional stress in her own village. He had already accepted her as his wife (Matt 1:24), but apparently they continued in betrothal (v.5: "pledged to be married"5 要和他所聘之妻) till after the birth.  Matthew 1: 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. 25 只是没有和她同房，等她生了儿子This is why registration is important.
Registration allows us to do tracing. 接触追踪We all have to do Safe Entry to attend the service physically in church.  It is an official declaration to the government that we are present in this place. In the same way, Joseph’s registration of his household, including Mary and Jesus, took on the same significance. The Son of God was now physically present in human history, officially recognized and traceable by Luke the historian. This registration is now like Jesus’ birth certificate: Jesus, son of Joseph, descendent of David, born in Bethlehem, city of David, registered in the census of Caesar Augustus. So when Jesus sits on the Davidic throne, you cannot deny his legitimacy. His entry into our world has been registered, and in Luke’s gospel, it is a record we can all trace-together.
In the spirit of Christmas, let us spend some time to remember those who are unregistered in the world today, especially those without birth certificates who are hidden from the world. First, I am reminded of the black children (黑户) of China.  Because of the one child policy in China, for decades many children, especially daughters in rural areas, were unregistered. In the census of 2010 in China, they estimated that there were at least 13 million people in China without registration. Without registration, such children grew up without going to school, without a job, without social security like medical coverage or transport, or any other form of legal identity.  This issue was only slowly revolved a few years ago when the one child policy was loosened in 2013 and the unregistered people could be registered in 2016.
Secondly, I am also reminded of the undocumented immigrants in America. As recent as 2015, it was estimated that there are at least 11 million of such people.  Without legal rights to reside or work in the U.S. or in many cases qualify for benefits such as health care, driver’s licenses or higher education, experts say many undocumented immigrants struggle with mental health problems from the daily fear and anxiety of being caught and deported, and are often without the ability to seek treatment.  On one hand, it is wrong to contravene the immigration laws of a country, but on the other hand, you cannot help but feel empathy for these people who had to escape poverty and persecution in search of a better life. These two groups are the known unregistered and undocumented groups because they are prominent issues in China and America. I’m sure that there are pockets of unknown people all over the world displaced by war, genocidal persecution and organized crime.
Even in Singapore, registration and documentation is not something that should be taken for granted. About 100 maids get pregnant every year in Singapore. A domestic worker usually panics when she finds out she is pregnant, because she can lose her job. One of the conditions for a work permit is not becoming pregnant or giving birth here. They may be pushed to do things that are not quite wise, such as hiding the pregnancy or giving birth prematurely. This is why we sometimes get news of hidden or discarded babies.  As we are thankful for the birth of Christ that brings salvation to this world, let us also remember the sufferings of the millions of unregistered and undocumented births in this world in our prayers.
Besides the extreme contrast of Caesar and baby Jesus in a manger, Luke also contrasted the image of the lowly shepherds with the divine angels. We have the declaration of the angel to the shepherds: Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:11) 11 因今天在大卫的城里，为你们生了救主，就是主基督。In our passage tonight, Luke subtly hinted to us, that besides the human dimension, there is also the divine dimension. The details of the sign: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger, 12 你们要看见一个婴孩，包着布，卧在马槽里，那就是记号了。signifies to us that this birth is not just witnessed by man, but also watched over by the angels in heaven. Why were the shepherds chosen by the angels for this revelation? Maybe they are the only ones awake and alert late at night. If the same event was to happen in this day and age, the angels would be visiting young people gaming or watching Netflix after midnight. But I think shepherds are Luke’s way of representing the commoners. Moses and Jacob were shepherds when they were exiled from their homes. David was a shepherd because he was the youngest amongst his brothers. Shepherding is a harsh and lowly vocation exposed to the elements and dangers in the wild. But the nature of their work -- to guide, care and protect the sheep -- resembles the responsibilities of a king. Ezekiel 34: 23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 23 我必立一牧人照管他们，牧养他们，就是我的仆人大卫。他必牧养他们，做他们的牧人。So I think it is especially meaningful for the shepherds to be the first witnesses of the birth of Christ. The connections between Jesus and David are not just in the earthly registrations, but also in the proclamations of the divine messengers.
Though the registrations of this world matter in providing legal status to who we are, let us also not forget that ultimately what matters most is our registration in heaven. I believe that our presence on earth and our future with God is also a part of God’s plans. On this Christmas Sunday, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus registered on earth and in the heavens, we are also reminded of our own new birth as we are registered as a member of Jubilee Church. I wish to end with a message about the interconnectedness between all of us. You may think that you are just a member or a visitor in this place. But your presence today has been registered, not just to the Singapore government, but also in the eyes of God. Who knows, perhaps God has divine plans for you and the rest of the Jubilee community. What you choose to do affects the rest of us. If you are a church member, you could pray and care for others and serve the community with your spiritual gifts. And if you are not, maybe you can think about making our relationship official. I welcome you to join us. I believe you can make the community more complete. Let this Christmas be a beginning of God’s new creation between us. And years later, we might trace together back to this moment, like how Luke trace his Gospel to the night in Bethlehem, when God made his presence felt in the world, and humanity, whether high or low, in the past or future, on earth or in the heavens, forms part of the story of God’s salvation.
Liefeld, W. L. (1984). Luke, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary.
Luke 2:1–12 (Listen)
2:1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”