Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Eve

For those who say that religion and politics don’t mix aren’t paying attention to tonight’s reading from Luke that we just heard. Maybe this passage has become TOO familiar to those who’ve been coming to Christmas Eve services for so many years or been watching endless loops of Linus’ monologue from A Charlie Brown Christmas, that the story has lost its political edge.

“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their hometowns to be registered.”

I’m no statistician, but why people had to take time off work to head to their hometowns to fill out a government form is a mystery to me. They could just as easily been counted where they lived and the Roman bureaucrats probably would have gotten better information.

But Luke, in his sneaky sort of way, makes a point in telling us that Jesus was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus in the city of the great King David. And anyone listening who knew their history would have known the Augustus fancied himself as the “King of Peace” who was to bring an end to all wars everywhere.

On top of that, Augustus, in a stunning act of hubris, also referred to himself as “Saviour” and encouraged people to worship him like a god. He was the all-powerful, wise, and virtuous leader who would usher in an era of peace and prosperity, whether you wanted his brand of peace and prosperity or not.

This gives the angels’ announcement to the shepherds more of a political spin: “Do not be afraid; for see- 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.”

So Luke presents us with two competing saviours, two kings battling for attention, a contrasting vision of peace. One is Pax Augusta, sustaining a painful peace by force. And one is a Pax Christi, who brings peace through love and sacrifice.

Whether or not Luke’s intention was for Jesus to usurp Caesar’s authority or to merely contrast God’s love with human power is anyone’s guess. Maybe Luke was asking his listeners where their allegiances lie. Perhaps Luke was reminding people that while the saviour brings peace, that peace looks different to every one.

What does peace look like for you?

Is it peace in your heart knowing that you’ve been forgiven of sin and gained entry into eternal life with Christ? Does peace mean “peace with God” in an intimate, personal, relationship?

Or has peace been a long time coming? Does peace mean finally accepting that your life hasn’t turned out the way you wanted it to? That the dreams of your youth have disintegrated under the weight of numerous obligations. Maybe it’s accepting your failures and learning from them. Maybe peace is realizing that your broken marriage will never be healed, that it’s not your fault that your spouse won’t stop drinking. It’s learning to live with the fact that some losses are forever, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Maybe peace for you is learning to walk with a limp after wrestling with God.

Or does peace mean the absence of conflict in your life? That you’ve finally reconciled with those who’ve hurt you? Does peace meaning forgiving others so you don’t have to carry the burden of anger or resentment any longer? Does peace mean knowing that, even though others have hurt you, you will not hurt others?

Or maybe you’re thinking on a grander scale. Peace means “peace on earth” where swords are beaten into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks, and guns are ground into gardening tools. Where nuclear weapons are disarmed and banned. Where Palestinians and Israelis learn not just to live with each other but to love one another as children of God, progeny of Abraham and Sarah. Where our soldiers in Afghanistan will be relieved of their duty with thanks. Where North and South Korea lay down ancient animosities,and embrace each other as sisters and brothers. Where old historic hostilities between nations and peoples are settled once and for all and a new age of friendship on earth begins.

Or maybe, for you, peace not just reconciliation or the end of conflict, but the beginning of a sustainable prosperity for everyone, where all people live to their fullest potential, where hungry bellies are full, where teary eyes are wiped clean, where all people live and thrive in the joy of knowing they are loved and valued.

What is peace for you?

What do you suppose the angels were singing about that night? “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom God favours.”

It could be that the angels were proclaiming all those kinds of peace we just talked. And other kinds of peace we haven’t thought of.

That’s because the one they were proclaiming was the saviour who came for YOU. As Martin Luther said, “The angel does not simply say: ‘Christ is born!’ but “for YOU he is born.’ What good would it do me, if he were born a thousand times, and if this were sung to me every day with the loveliest of airs, if I should not hear that there was some [message] for me and that it should be my own”1

The saviour comes to bring peace TO you and FOR you. This is the peace the world cannot give and a peace we can’t create on our own. The saviour comes not to enforce peace like Augustus tried, but to create it, to give birth to is as God’s promised future peace resting vulnerably in a manger. The Christ Child, Jesus born in a barn, sleeping in an animal’s food trough, is the peace we are seeking.

On this Christmas Eve, we think about peace, we pray for it, we sing about it, and we bring our longings for it to worship hoping to catch glimpses of peace, perhaps just out the corners of our eyes, so that we can begin again with the dream that - one day - we will have peace in just the way we need, just as Jesus promised.

And when we capture that hint of peace, we join the song of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace among those whom he favours.”

May this be so among us. Amen.


Post a Comment

<< Home