“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those
whom He favors."
In the Christian tradition, the Birth of Christ represents our new year. The Light of the World has come, and everything has changed! During this entire season, I have been trying to bring peace. I have said that I would join the cause for peace. I realize on this last day of Advent that perhaps I should have spent more time interrogating my concept of peace. The peace of this world, the kind we learn about in school, might not be the peace of God.
I think most of us would agree that this Christmas season has been anything but peaceful. Every event I have attended in the past month has had an undercurrent of anxiety because of the state of our (inter)national political climate. Almost every child I know has asked me to share my thoughts about our President-elect. I think that regardless of where any of us falls on the political spectrum, we can relate to the anxiety and fear. We are afraid of our leaders, and we are learning to fear each other. Much of this fear has cropped up during this season of Christmas.
While some Christians I know have been struggling with the juxtaposition of political divisiveness and the joy of the Christmas season, the tension directly aligns with the situation Jesus entered at the time of His birth. The Christmas story did not happen in a spiritual bubble. Neither do we have to receive the Christmas story in a spiritual bubble. The Glory of God is meant to shake up our fragile understandings of peace. Mary and Joseph and Jesus victims of the cruel Roman Empire. Jesus’ mere presence was a direct threat to the Empire because Jesus’s birth into the midst of chaos and confusion and violence was a direct affront to the spirit of fear that hung over the people. They were the young Middle Eastern family, living with the anxiety of not knowing what was next for them. Joseph was that father, risking life, limb, and livelihood, to defend his wife and newborn son from everyone from a state that wanted to kill them to nosy neighbors who wanted to soil their reputation.
In Scripture, we constantly see and hear the refrain, “Do not be afraid.” The sentiment of the phrase is that we ought not be afraid if we have access to God. In Luke 2, the angels say to the shepherds that they need not fear because they are receiving “good news of great joy for all the people.” As I approach this text today, it perplexes me. Why did the angels tell the shepherds about the birth of the baby; wouldn’t they have wanted this story announced to people of greater status? And, why were the shepherds excited about the baby; shepherds are supposed to look after their sheep, so why did they drop everything to go looking for a baby? And, how did Mary and Joseph really feel sitting in a cold barn, she having just given birth to her firstborn when shepherds came in from the fields to revere her child? What is going on in this story?
It must be a God-thing. Jesus was part of the lineage of David, Israel’s second king. This David was a psalmist and warrior, but before he became psalmist, warrior, and king, David was a shepherd. It is only appropriate that shepherds would receive this newborn son of the House of David. He was born into a shepherd’s family just like them.
Brave young Mary knew that she was the mother of royalty, but the words of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) reveal that Mary was a burgeoning liberation theologian. She understood God to be on the side of the lowly, hungry, and the people of Israel. Her theological underpinnings allowed her to embrace placing the Light of the World in a manger and that His first visitors were shepherds. Her theology was big enough to wrap around the strange idea that God was inside of her. The God inside her was on the side of the oppressed.
So, I return to my original thought. What is peace? Jesus did not come to give us more of the peace of this world. Look around. The peace of the world is contingent upon the killing and trampling upon of the innocent. The peace of this world is false, constructed to help us sleep better at night. But, what is the peace of a boy born thousands of years ago in a war-torn town and placed in a manger? What is the peace He brings us? It is the glory of the Lord. It is the light of salvation. We can be reflections of that light! As the prophet Isaiah said, “Arise, shine; for your light has come!” How will you reflect the light of Jesus in this new Christian year?