What makes the world turn, and keeps things going?
In Jesus' time the answer, in one word, was Caesar. Yes there were gods, but when push came to shove, what counted was money and political power. Today we have Trump and Putin, and upstarts like China. Nothing has changed. As now, the rulers of Jesus time used the gods and religion when it suited them.
What really counted was staying on top. And the tragedy is that the bullets used by the tyrants are the same bullets, made by the same companies, used by the good presidents. There is something about us people, some endless cycle of violence from which we can never escape. We think that by using violence we can fix violence.
We may like Obama more than Trump; we may prefer the Queen, but they are all part of the same endless violence and struggle for supremacy which means the ordinary people and the poor suffer just as they did in Jesus' time.
The Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke is "a point by point refutation" of all the propaganda of the Caesars.
Luke says Jesus is the son of the most high.
And that Jesus is the saviour of the world. Jesus is Lord.
All these terms are the language that the Caesars like to use for themselves.
Even gospel— good news— was a term they used to describe their victories over their enemies!
In Luke's story, Jesus' name means God saves.
And his kingdom never ends; not like the Roman Empire, which no longer exists; not like the thousand year Reich, or Realm, which lasted only 12 years; not like the United States, which is falling apart inside, despite all its military power.
Really? Jesus Kingdom never ends? Here is where the gospel is completely counter-intuitive; where it turns everything upside down. Because Luke, who tells us all this, over and over again, who tells us Jesus' kingdom will never end, then tells us the story of a man who was dead in three years, or less. Killed by Caesar.
And, then, according to some witnesses, raised from the dead.
What's going on here?
Well, Christmas on its own… is nothing. If we… 'just go to church at Christmas' … so to speak, Christmas is hard put to be much more than good feelings and hopefulness that have something to do with family and gifts.
But in Luke, where Christmas leads straight to Easter, Christmas is a story about how the one who was raised from the dead, and still reigns, began. Christmas in Luke tells us that everything about Jesus' beginning has God's finger prints on it. Christmas… is God saying that the great Roman Peace allegedly established by Caesar Augustus was just as fake as the Peace in our time of Neville Chamberlain, or The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere established by Japan, or The New World Order of President Bush.
Christmas is only the beginning… of an entirely new way of living. It's not something we can learn in our heads. It's not a theory we can learn from a book. One of the scholars says
Any story that can be told without being undergone runs the risk of being too powerful to be compatible with the Christian Gospel… [it would enable] someone to be right without becoming someone different. (James Alison) [It would become its own kind of violence, indeed.]
If we do not become someone different, then we are just another person, just another person who'd like to be Caesar, if we could. And we see little Caesars terrorising their office, or beating their wives, assaulting which ever woman takes their fancy, ripping off their employees, or helping the rich to evade their taxes.
What the other end of the Christmas Story tells us… is that an everlasting kingdom only becomes everlasting when death means nothing to it; when we can risk dying because we know that for God, death means nothing— that death is just one more day in our lives… which go on despite death.
Luke, and the other gospels, teach us we can only learn this by being with the weak, and the oppressed, and the strangers. And that could mean we too, are killed. But the gospel shows us that Jesus' kingdom never ends… because he doesn't have to win… because he knows death doesn't matter.
So Jesus offers us a completely different reality. He offers us an entirely different way of seeing the world, completely different to what our culture teaches us is right and true. But it's a way we which we won't see until we stop trying to win, and simply start to love people. And then… it begins to make sense— more sense than anything else.
I can't give you a formula for this. I can't teach you how to see it. It's not in a book. We can only look at Jesus' life. We can see how he was friends to all people. We can see how he rejected no one. But it only becomes real— we only start to see it— when we trust God enough to try living it. We can only undergo grace, and only undergo freedom.
When we give up our safe comfortableness and love all people; when we open ourselves to the stranger, it opens us further. Something— mysterious grace— gives us unexpected compassion not only for the stranger, but also for those nearby— even for family— from whom we have always been a little apart. It's a grace which transcends religion; I see it in Muslim friends, and in friends who don't think of themselves as religious at all! — a deep growing peace and compassion which reflects what we see in the Christ.
And… and this is the most unexpected gift of seeking to be open to all others... it opens the door to the greatest stranger; the one within— our self. And we find… that even we… are loved by God. We see the whole world with new eyes, and it is very good news.
Enjoy Christmas. Enjoy friends and food and family. But most of all, follow Jesus… live like he did. It is the way to life. Amen.
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