Merry Christmas, everyone! The waiting is over and the baby has been born! He is the Messiah, the Lord! It is good news of great joy for all the people.
All the people? Births of kings and rulers in the Graceo-Roman world were announced as “Good News” for all people. That was how the Emperor Caesar Augustus’ birth had been announced. Yet these royal births scarcely tended to be Good News for the world – and certainly not for the poor, the dispossessed and the have-nots. These were the ones who bore the burden of the royal decrees. These are the ones who were most inconvenienced by royal announcements like a census.
The king on the margins (Luke 2: 1-20)
There’s a wonderful irony running through the gospel reading, isn’t there? Caesar Augustus is sitting in his palace, issuing decrees that get the whole world (or at least, the world that counts for him) on the move. Unknown to him, his decree, in Luke’s narrative, is the means whereby a pregnant nobody from an obscure village in the middle of nowhere will end up giving birth to her baby in a stable in another equally miniscule and unimportant place, famed solely for the fact that it was the birthplace of David. For that reason, this little town (village, almost) was grandly referred to as “the city of Davi”. Yet it is here, on the edges of nowhere, among the nobodies, where there is no room to be had, clinging (as it were) to his purchase on space in the world by his fingernails, that the Christ child is born. And this is the king who is to rule forever and ever. His kingdom, as the Isaiah text reminds us, will have no end.
The king of this world (Isaiah 9: 2-7)/Psalm 96
So today’s gospel is linked with the beautiful oracle of Isaiah 9, and the enthronement psalm of Psalm 96. The child born is a king. His entry into the world has not been to encourage people to take a brief “time out” from reality for a few days, and to fawn over each other in mawkish sentimentality. Rather, it has been to transform the world! This world belongs to him and to God. It is this world where this son of Adam is to be king. And that means the world is to become as he intends it to be – a place of peace.
This is not peace as the absence of war, but as the presence of justice and righteousness, healing, and wholeness. It is the active presence of God. But how do we do justice? There is no Christian who would vote against justice. Justice is one of those all-embracing concepts to which everyone can subscribe. The issue, though, is what justice means in any given situation. What does justice mean in the present context in Israel/Palestine? Or peace, for that matter? Bethlehem – the birth place of Jesus – is surrounded by the separation barrier. It controls the life of the inhabitants, effectively imprisoning them. The justification offered for the Wall is that it is a security measure – a means of ensuring peace. If the Israelis build their Wall, and all Palestinian violence is contained, is peace present?
God’s justice and peace, which the angels announce to the shepherds, is Good News to all people because it is Good News to the poor and the dispossessed first! It is Good News for shepherds and unmarried mothers. It is Good News for those who are helpless bystanders and victims of the power politics that shape their lives. It is Good News, as Jesus announces at Nazareth, to the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed. Or, as he will have need to remind John the Baptist, to the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, the dead and the poor (Luke 7:22). While it is Good News to those on the margins, it remains Bad News for those who have put them there! Jesus comes at Christmas not just to warm hearts but to transform the living conditions of the world. It was good to see, on a Channel 4 television programme, that out of the 100 greatest Christmas moments, the number 1 was the 1984 “Feed the World” record. Good, too, to see that Bob Geldof has thought it worth re-releasing – and giving us the chance to argue about which is the better recording! Here is a message written in action – actions that declared the Good News of Christmas.
God has come among us in Jesus, and the world cannot remain the same. Neither can we. So the advent of this baby is not a “time out”, but a kairos – a time in which God is here among us; a time that exposes things for the way they actually are. Christmas is a time for confronting the reality of the Bad News, and declaring that peace, justice and righteousness have come into the world in Jesus Christ and will not be denied, because this is the birth of the King of the Universe!