THE EXTRAORDINARY OUT OF THE ORDINARY
About a month ago, I had a rather unusual voicemail. It was a computer-generated voice, claiming to be from the tax office. The voicemail told me that I owed the tax office thousands of dollars. It told me that I had been accused of tax fraud and an arrest warrant had been issued in my name. To avoid being arrested, I had to call them back to discuss various options to solve the issue.
I knew immediately that it was a scam, but it still frightened me. What if it was true? What if I truly owed the ATO thousands of dollars without knowing it? What if there was truly an arrest warrant in my name? So, to assure myself, I called the ATO office and told them about the voicemail. They immediately confirmed what I had known: it was a scam.
I wasn’t alone. Apparently, this kind of scam was nothing new. Many people had fallen victims in the same kind of scenario.
In 2017, the Australian Taxation Office received reports of more than 80.000 scams. Sadly, around $2.5 million had been paid to the scammers. They asked their victims to transfer money or to hand over iTunes cards or even Bitcoins to them. They are active especially at the end of the financial year or in November when the tax debts are due (beware!).
Elderly people are especially targeted because they are at home a lot. Other vulnerable victims are people who do not have a lot of contacts with family or friends.
Friends, this kind of scam is quite potent because there are two things that are certain in life: death and taxes. As such, only these two things that can give us the fright of our life.
Taxes were also the background of the Christmas story in Luke’s gospel this morning. Emperor Augustus had given the order that all in his empire should return to their hometowns to be registered. And this kind of national census in ancient time had only own purpose: taxes. All people were to be registered to make it easier for the Roman officials to collect taxes from them.
In other words, the Christmas story that we hear today happened in the most ordinary of time. Nothing is more ordinary than taxes. The story was located in a historical context when Augustus was the Emperor and Quirinius was the Governor of Syria. In that time, there was a young man who travelled from the town of Nazareth to his hometown of Bethlehem. He travelled with his pregnant fiancée. They joined thousands, if not millions, of other people who made similar journeys.
Upon arriving at the town, his fiancée gave birth to a baby boy. The baby was wrapped and laid in a manger because his parents could not find a place for them to stay. All accommodations were already taken by other travelers who made the same kind of journey. In the area, there were also hardened shepherds who lived in the wilderness, looking after their sheep.
Now, there was nothing special about these events. These were just the ordinary day-to-day reality of living in the first century. But, out this ordinariness, something extraordinary was born. Out of this utterly worldly scene, a heavenly scene appeared. The angels pronounced that the baby born was special. The baby born was the bridge that closed the gap between heaven and earth.
Indeed, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and all citizens of the Roman Empire lived under the Pax Romana. It is loosely translated as the Roman peace. Pax Romana was their daily reality.
But, it was an artificial kind of peace. The kind of peace that favoured the elite and the powerful; the kind of peace that was achieved via brute force; the kind of peace that was maintained through fear and oppression.
But Jesus’ birth heralded a different kind of peace; the kind of peace that does not neglect the weak and the poor in the land; the kind of peace that is not achieved through violence; the kind of peace that is maintained through tender love, like the tender love of a parent nursing his/her baby; the kind of peace that brings liberation to all kinds of people in all kinds of bondage.
Jesus’s birth heralded something that was out of their ordinary life; it heralded the moment when heaven pierced into their worldly reality. People living under oppression glimpsed heaven on that first Christmas Day. God listened to them. God even sent His son for them.
Friends, there are some people out there who refuse to celebrate Christmas on December 25. They argue that Jesus was not born on December 25. They are right. Jesus was not born on December 25. It is only tradition.
But, the date doesn’t matter. What matters is what it signifies. Christmas is the time when we leave the ordinariness of our life. It is the time when have time to think about things that make life meaningful: hope, love, joy, and peace.
That’s why Christmas is a universal celebration. All people from all cultures even religions celebrate Christmas nowadays.
I have a friend who used to be an Indonesian teacher in one of the schools in Rockingham. She now lives and volunteers in Surabaya in Indonesia. She says that the Christmas decorations in malls there are bigger and grander than the ones in Australia. And we are talking about the second largest city in a country with the largest Muslim population in the world!
Christmas is indeed the time when we leave this ordinary world to enjoy the extraordinary. It is the time when all the worldly walls that we create to separate ourselves fall apart by the touch of heaven. Jesus was born to break into the world to heal its sins: its loneliness, its violence. His birth elevates our mundane world into the heavenly realm.
May Christmas be the time when you have the strength to glimpse what it is like when heaven touches the world. May it be the time when you can find and bring the extraordinary into your ordinary life. Amen.
 Scam call threatening elderly with arrest warrant, legal action from the ‘ATO’, an article by Patrick Williams on www.mobile.abc.net.au (Updated: Monday, April 23, 2018 12:33 PM AEST).