Let me begin my Christmas reflection by bursting some myths.
Christmas is not about presents. It’s not about lights and decorations.
It’s not about Christmas trees. It’s not about family gathering.
It’s not about food. It’s not about trying to be nice to all.
It’s not about singing Christmas carols.
All these things are fine and good, but you and I know that’s not what Christmas is all about.
For centuries the narrative of the birth of Jesushas been commercialised , has been spiritualized and the nativity story read literally.
Rev Dr John Squires, an ordained Uniting Church minister and a biblical scholar writes in his blog: “The biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus are not history. They are stories told to indicate the special nature of Jesus. Which means, we shouldn’t read them as history (ἱστορία).”
Let me be clear, even though this is not a historical story, it is important for theological reasons. It is part of the foundational myth of the Christian faith.
Again, quoting to John Squires: “So even as we recognise that the Christmas story is not history, we can appreciate the insights that it offers us as a mythological narrative. It is worth celebrating not as an actual historical event, in the way it is traditionally portrayed, but as the foundation of the faith that we hold: in Jesus, God has come to be with us.”
Let us pray…
Through the written word, and the spoken word, may we know your Living Word
Jesus Christ our Savour. Amen
IN JESUS, GOD HAS COME TO BE WITH US.
Two questions for us to reflect on?
- Who is this God who has come to be with us?
- And what does Jesus reveal about God?
Luke’s infancy narrative sets the humble birth of Jesus against the backdrop of a mighty empire and powerful rulers.
In the time of Luke’s Gospel, the so-called “Pax Romana” or “Roman Peace” was an invention of Roman imperialism marketed by the colonizers as a “golden age” of so-called “peace,” “law and order,” and “prosperous stability.”
Supposedly under Caesar Augustus’s rule, the economy was booming, and Rome was rebuilt more glorious than before — with temples, arenas, public baths, and forums.
A system of roads was built across the empire. Images of the Emperor and the Roman gods filled Rome and all major cities of the empire, proclaiming “Caesar is Lord” and extolling his rule of peace and prosperity.
Let’s not forget that beneath the emperor’s polished public image, however, was a much darker reality. Augustus brutally murdered any perceived enemies.
He achieved peace in the empire by suppressing human rights and liberties.
Receiving the benefits of the Roman peace meant submitting to tyrannical rule.
And of course, peace achieved by coercion and oppression is no true peace at all.
In short, the Peace of Rome equals empire, money, influence, authority and a buying into a system that took care of an elite few.
And in the humblest and most unlikely of circumstances, a child is born who will be
the true shepherd-king, the true Prince of Peace, who will usher in God’s reign on earth
as it is in heaven. The peace he brings will come not from military might, but from justice and mercy. He will rule not with coercive force. He will not bring peace through violence, or subjugation but with the power of self-giving love.
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.”
It is strangely appropriate that news of this royal birth comes first to some shepherds —
among the lowliest of the emperor’s subjects. We tend to romanticize those “Shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night,” but in the first century, shepherds were considered undesirable company. They were poor, illiterate, and thought to be dishonourable because they could not be home at night to protect their women.
They were also considered thieves because they grazed their flocks on other people’s property. They were outcasts of polite society, usually ranked together with sailors,
butchers, camel drivers, and other despised occupations.
Yet it is to these unlikely folk that the angel announces:
“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” (2:10-11).
Remember the news of Jesus’ birth is for all the people — not just the powerful and elite, but all the people, especially the lowly and outcast.
And we are told the shepherds go to Bethlehem to find this baby and become the first to share the good news of the Saviour’s birth.
The good news is “for all the people” (verse 10). This news is not only for the Jews but also for all people. This will be echoed in Luke 2:32 when Simeon announces that Jesus is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (ESV).
Shepherds, minimum wage earners, blind people, deaf, slaves, women without husbands
or women with too many husbands… who was scorned… who was despised… but it seems that’s where Jesus’ focus lies.
The joyful good news is that a saviour has been born.
In the age of Augustus, when power is rooted in imperial Rome, and when the emperor
was acclaimed as a saviour, the angel announces the arrival of the real saviour, the prince of peace.
Pax Romana or Pax Christi?
To be baptized into Christ meant that you had to leave the ways of Rome and
follow the Way of Jesus. They had to divide themselves from the “Pax Romana”
to get to the “Pax Christi.” Remember Pax Romana maintains the status quo.
But the Peace of Christ requires us to leave the things we know are not healing, to leave the things we know are not loving, to leave the things we know do not serve the most vulnerable. We need to leave what we know is unhealthy to get what we need to be well.
We live in a world still dominated by little Caesars, a world still enamoured with wealth, power, and military might, a world where the lowly still get trampled far too often.
The war in Ukraine started by Valdemar Putin is a good example.
Yet we have seen some of those little Caesars’s fall. We have been reminded that,
one way or another, the rule of every tyrant eventually comes to an end.
Lest we become arrogant, we are reminded that our personal empires too will pass away —
all the things we hold onto so tightly, all the ways in which we seek power over others, all our relentless planning and manoeuvring that never brings true peace or security.
We can no longer delude ourselves into thinking that we are lords over our own lives,
for God’s anointed one, the Saviour and Lord, has arrived among us.
This saviour is born for us, even these many centuries later, and his birth is still good news
for all people. He comes to bring peace on earth by reconciling us to God and to one another with the power of love that casts out fear. He comes to bring peace on earth through nonviolence.
His reign continues to break into our world wherever the lowly are lifted up — wherever the outcasts are welcomed, wherever the hungry are fed, wherever the poor are clothed and sheltered, wherever the captives are set free, wherever enemies are reconciled, wherever the good news is proclaimed, sins are forgiven, and lives are transformed.
On this Christmas Morning, 25th December 2022, we are asked to choose.
Pax Romana or Pax Christi?
The Peace of Rome vs.the Peace of Christ, are on something of a collision course.
For the followers of Jesus in the first century and since, choosing the peace of Christ
means that we refuse the Peace of Rome.
Pax Romana maintains peace through violence.
Pax Romana rules by fear.
Pax Romana lives in fear of change.
Pax Christi — the Peace of Christ seeks an unsettling change.
Pax Christi rejects the myth of redemptive violence which enshrines the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right.
It is one of the oldest continuously repeated stories in the world.
On this Christmas morning before you leave this place for your Christmas lunches
my question for you is: Will your lives, your loves, your actions reflect the fear and status quo of Rome? Or will you seek change, relinquish fear and embrace a love which embraces all peoples?
The Peace of Christ or the Peace of Rome?
The Peace of Rome or the Peace of Christ?
Pax Romana or Pax Christi?
Which side are you on?
The choice is yours.
The choice is ours. Amen.