Red Pills for Christmas
Christmas Day, Dec 25 2011
Gospel: Luke 2:1-20
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Did you see the film called The Matrix?
The Matrix began with a young man being offered a choice between a blue pill, and a red pill. The blue pill would allow him to continue his ordinary life. The red pill would wake him up and allow him to learn the truth about the world in which he lived.
It was a great film, full of action and excitement. It won four Oscars.
In the film it turned out that what most humans thought was reality, was really only a dream, created by thinking machines which had taken over the earth. People were sleeping in vats of chemicals, and the machines were using their body heat as an energy source. What seemed real was not real.
Some people thought this was a great scifi action movie. Many other people spent a lot of time afterwards thinking and talking about the message of the movie. What was it saying? Was it suggesting that we all live in a dream, and need to take some kind of red pill, to wake ourselves up?
Some people thought, “No. It’s just a movie. It’s a good movie, but it’s just a movie.” Many others wondered. “How much do we really know about our reality?” they asked. “How much are we living under some kind of deception; in a dream?”
I want to suggest that one of the Christmas presents we receive each year, is the offer of a blue pill or a red pill.
Back in Jesus’ day there were no movies, so if you wanted to do a blue pill - red pill movie, you had to write a book— and lots of people did that. We have read from one of those books today; The Gospel Of Luke.
We can read the Gospel of Luke, and the other Christian Gospels, come to that, just like people watched the movie. We can say, “It’s just a story.” Or we can think deeply about the alternative reality the gospel is showing us.
Do you remember that the blue pill is about going back to sleep? The people who take the blue pill are not the non church goers who don’t know about the true meaning of Christmas. Luke was written for people who were already Christians!
The people who take the blue pill are the Christians who, nonetheless treat the Christmas Story, and the gospel, like it’s just a story. They go back to sleep. I think I’ve taken the blue pill myself, some years.
When you take the blue pill, Christmas becomes comfortable. We reduce it. We cut it down and we tame it, so as to have a nice time. Christmas becomes a family time, a time of giving gifts, a time of being happy. It forgets the poverty and the pain, and the deadly serious politics of the story of Luke. It fogets the stuff that makes Christmas not just happy, but also joyful!
When we take the blue pill, Christmas becomes holidays, not holy days.
What happens if we take the red pill?
We know we’ve taken the red pill when we wake up. We know we’ve taken the red pill when Christmas worries us. We know we’ve taken the red pill when we have worried thoughts, even guilty thoughts, during Christmas dinner, and remember the people who are starving and freezing, or dying of thirst.
When we’ve taken the red pill, we don’t see a darling baby in a silk lined crib, with sweet carols being sung overhead, and candles in his Christmas Tree. We see a poor child in a rough feed trough, for lack of anything else to keep him out of the dirt. We know the soldiers are coming to kill him, and they’ll massacre the whole village, to make sure they kill him.
Somehow, after the red pill, some of the gifts we’ve given, or lusted after, will seem slightly obscene.
The red pill turns us into one of those movie goers who turn back and watch the movie again, and look for clues about what it means.
We might pause the DVD, for example, when the angels come to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus. Angels are messengers of God. What they say is important. It is what the story is about. The angel says:
I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
What does that mean? When we forget the sweet baby Jesus and ask that question instead, we take the red pill. And we are like the man called Neo, in the film. He takes the red pill, and wakes up in what seems a nightmare, but is actually the real world.
Because Luke’s red pill forces us to remember all the horror of the world. A Saviour is someone who is needed because instead of living in the garden of paradise, most folk live in a desert of pain and oppression and hunger. This is the norm of human existence.
And even those who, by some happy accident and good luck live in the rich countries of the world, still know all too well the pain and fear of living, and the ever present possibility of bad luck and early death.
A Messiah is someone that God anoints to set God’s people free from exile, and prison. The Messiah is someone who is sent to bring the people of God home; and don’t we need it? So many of us struggle through life, lost and afraid, just barely coping, always tempted to drink a blue pill out of a bottle, and stop the pain for a while. Mentioning Messiah reminds us the world is a mess.
Then there is the Lord.
The Lord is the one in charge. The Lord is the one who will bring peace to the whole world. He is the one who will bring meaning to our lives, and set us free if we follow him. As the bible says, the Lord is God.
And this is where we meet the catch of the red pill.... You see, in the movie, Neo wakes up after taking the red pill, and is rescued. But then he realises that the machines are after him. He will have to stay awake and fight for the good, and it will not be easy.
The system sees him as its sworn enemy.
It’s the same for us. We are saying Jesus is Lord, but there already is a Lord! It’s a kind of mix of government, and retail, and industry. It’s what we call the System. It wants us to worship it by doing as we are told, and buying more, and staying asleep, and buying more. It wants us to send our children off to its wars, and to turn a blind eye while it hammers the people who get in its way, or invades the people who have the oil, or rips off the people who have the Coltan, or other precious materials, that it wants to bolster its power.
Coltan is the mineral that they use to make blue pills. It’s what they need to make touch screens on mobile phones and iPads. And if we take the blue pill, the Lord of the System will let us buy all the iPads and iPhones we want, and will leave us alone.
If we take the red pill, Jesus will say, “No, I am Lord, not the system. Wake up!” And Jesus will show us all the dying people in the Congo where they get Coltan, and all the virtual slaves in the phone factories, and he will tell us spread the word. And will probably tell us we don’t need another phone yet, because this one still works.
And the Lord; the System; the Machine, will be angry.
When we read what Luke is saying about Christmas, that it is the birth of the Saviour, Messiah, and Lord, it may not seem good news. It may seem to ask too much of us. It would be easier to go back to sleep and buy more presents, and put on a fine carol service, and buy better wine for Christmas tea; or more beer for the barbie.
Or we could wake up, and decide to look at the uncomfortable vision of the real world which Christmas is inviting us to see. It’s like the Matrix, really. It’s not until we are awake that we are free. Seeing the real world, and doing what Jesus asks of us, sets us free.
Go and enjoy Christmas lunch, but spare a thought for those who suffer, and seek out what you can do for them. You will be taking the red pill of salvation. Amen.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.