From PASTOR EMERITUS:
“I received yesterday an online piece from John Dear S.J. entitled, ‘Celebrating the Birth of the Nonviolent Jesus.’ Dear’s article sees Jesus ‘as a nonviolent revolutionary who sets in motion God’s peace movement….’ It prompted me to look at Luke’s Christmas story as a tale of subversion and to ask the question, ‘Who do we follow – Caesar or Jesus?’
When the lead singer of the Irish rock group, U2, was asked in a Rolling Stones Magazine interview a few years ago if he believed in God, he said: ‘I think there’s a love and a logic that lies behind the universe, so I believe in God. I also see, as an artist, the poetic appropriateness of that unspeakable power manifesting itself in a baby born in straw poverty.’ Now there’s a marvelous poetic paradox! The power that sustains the whole cosmos expressing itself in the weakness and humanity of a child ‘born in straw poverty.’
There was nobody more powerful in the ancient world than Caesar Augustus. Nobody had ever commanded a larger army or ruled a greater kingdom than Caesar. He emerged as Roman Emperor, the product of violent machinations and dark maneuverings, in the confusing civil war that followed the assassination of Julius Caesar. He ruled in a world of despotic rulers where exploitation, manipulation, violence, treachery, domination, warfare and ‘might is right’ was the order of the day. This was and had been the way of the world for eons. Nobody knew any other way of doing business. This was the accepted way of exercising power. This was, and is, the ugly face of sin.
The pages of the bible are full of it. Cain murdered Abel. Cain, a violent murderer, became the founder of the first city. Cities are the hotbeds of violence, but always under the appearance of order and power. Watch for the violence up and down the bible: Abraham battled with Lot, Jacob with Esau, Joseph with his brothers. The Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians and, after their escape, spent centuries fighting terrible wars before being conquered and carried off into exile in Babylon. After their liberation and return to Jerusalem they were conquered in turn by the Assyrians, the Greeks and the Romans.
Old Testament history is the story of the human tendency to misread God’s plan, and say that power and order can only come from violence. Throughout the telling of the story, some wonderful people showed up who began to dream of a different way of living humanly, a different way of exercising power and creating order in society. These were the prophets of Israel, the conscience of the people.
Listen to the great Advent prophet, Isaiah, at Midnight Mass: ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone…’ 9:1. The ‘darkness’ refers to the eons of hatred, violence and domination. The ‘land of gloom’ is the story of human sin. Isaiah spells it out in terms of the ‘yoke that burdened, the pole on the shoulder, the rod of the taskmaster, boots tramping in battle, cloaks rolling in blood…’ That’s the sorry story of God’s people – domination, warfare, violence, tribe against tribe, people against people. It’s still the way of the world, the way we get things done!
Isaiah promised that a new day was dawning and a light would shine in the darkness. How and when will this new day come? ‘For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests…’ A child will usher in this new day, a whole new way of arranging things. ‘Upon his shoulder dominion rests,’ for he will be Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Prince of Peace…. God’s way of realizing his plan will appear in this child.
This child will turn upside down a world turned upside down by sin, and thereby set it on the right path. This subversive quality of God is disclosed in Luke magnificent Christmas story. It is not to Caesar Augustus (the Roman Emperor whose census decree brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem), in his pride, power violence and worldly comfort that we should look, but rather to the poor, humble, and non-violent King born in straw poverty.
Bono had it right. ‘The love and logic that lies behind the universe…the poetic appropriateness of unspeakable power manifesting itself as a baby…’ So, take your pick as you shop this Christmas. Will you buy into our tired and bankrupt latter-day Caesars or will you buy into Christ? The choice is actual, and it’s yours.
Merry Christmas from your