Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Let us remember what the world was like when “God so loved the world” that the Divine felt compelled to send his son. God appointed a young Jewish woman named Mary to birth God’s son. The Romans appointed Herod to deny God’s hopes. Alas, the world had a choice.
Upon learning the nature of the child she carried, Luke’s Gospel records, Mary rejoiced. “My soul magnifies the Lord.” She said that through Jesus’s birth, God would “put down the mighty from their thrones.”
Islam’s Quran (3:47-48) includes similar teachings about the profundity of this child. “He will teach him the Book and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel. And will make him a messenger to the Children of Israel saying, ‘Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord. I make for you out of clay the likeness of a bird, then breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by the permission of God. And I heal the blind and the leper, and I bring the dead to life by the permission of God.”
These claims about Jesus and Herod’s fear of him guaranteed a clash between Imperial Rome and Jesus followers. Even as Jesus lay in the manger, Herod solicited the wise men to find that baby so he could put an end to Mary’s vision even before it started. In their book “The First Christmas,” Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan ague, “That tectonic clash of kingdoms is the context of our Christmas texts.”
It was a clash between Roman Imperialism and Jesus’s message. Rome looked upon the Emperor as Divine, giving him familiar titles such as Son of God and Savior of the World. Roman theology was designed to bring peace through oppression and violence. God’s plan was different, described by Mary in Luke 1:51-53, the Magnificat. Through Jesus, peace would come by scattering the proud, exalting the lowly, feeding the hungry, and sending the rich away empty handed.
Borg and Crossan described the choices as “two alternative transcendental visions. The Empire promises peace through violent force.” Through Jesus, God promises “peace through nonviolent justice.” From the day of Jesus’ birth through Christmas 2016 the same two alternatives have always existed.
We celebrate the birth of Jesus amidst troubling and confusing times. That’s been the way for each of the hundreds of Christmases since “the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:15-16)
It is, unfortunately, the human reality. The baby Jesus and his parents fled Herod, becoming refugees in Egypt. Today’s refugees board dangerously overloaded boats with others of God’s children, fleeing despots much worse than Herod. Think about this. We celebrate Christmas in Wyoming where most Christians are not troubled that our state remains the only one of fifty not to agree to resettle refugees just like Mary, Joseph, and their baby. Simultaneously, there are citizens of our country living in fear because some hate them for their skin color, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.
This continues in 2016 because some who have power over others believe peace comes to earth through the abuse of that power. Jesus followers know that’s false. Peace comes through God’s justice.
Isaiah wrote that God, “shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”
Choosing God’s justice is what brings “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
To my Christian friends, Merry Christmas. To my Jewish friends, Happy Hanukkah. To everyone, Happy Holidays.