December 15, 2017

Christmas Eve: Undermining Empire

The Age of Augustus, the Birth of Christ, Jean-Léon Gérôme

The Age of Augustus, the Birth of Christ, Jean-Léon Gérôme

Well, all right, let’s talk about the baby Jesus. Why was he born in Bethlehem? Luke tells us: because the then global superpower wanted to raise taxes, so told everyone to sign up and pay up. That’s how the Middle East worked then, and, with minor adjustments, that’s how it works today. This was Caesar’s world, and unless you were fool enough to try to buck the system you shrugged your shoulders and did what you were told.

Yes, says Luke; but watch what happens next. The child who is born is the true king from the house of David. And all the ancient prophecies spoke of the coming royal child from David’s line as the king, not of one small country far away, certainly not of a heavenly kingdom removed from this earth, but of the earth itself, the world claimed by Caesar and taxed by Caesar, the world where the rich get rich at the expense of the poor while telling them they are giving them freedom, justice and peace. The world of empires from that day to this.

Luke’s story digs underneath this typical story of everyday empire and undermines it with the explosive news of a different empire, a different emperor, a different kind of emperor. Jesus isn’t simply another politician on whom everyone can pin their hopes and who will then let them down. His way of establishing God’s justice and peace on the earth was different to Caesar’s, different to the usual power games and money games, different in source, different in method, different in effect. We are today hungry for exactly that difference, and Christmas night is the time to ponder it.

• N.T. Wright
“The Government Shall Be Upon His Shoulders”

Comments

  1. As only Wright can say it. Love his take, thanks for posting. The artwork/painting, is haunting.

    Off to LAX, in the pouring rain, to pick up our son flying in for Christmas from DC.

    Merry Christmas, Chaplain Mike, and fellow posters.

  2. “We place too much trust in our politicians because we place too little trust in God, and in the self-revelation of the living God in the child who is born to us. And when our politicians let us down, all we can think of is . . . how to find another politician, who will get it right this time.”

    That’s because almost all politicians will ask (or demand) your money, your loyalty (at least on the surface), and your vote.

    God asks us to repent.

    Little wonder most folks stick with the politicians.

    • I had this thought the other day, after another slew of FB posts by friends regarding Trump and Obama and all things political:

      “I don’t like politics. Politics turns Christians into asses, but it doesn’t turn asses into Christians.”

  3. Wonderful reminder. Thanks.

  4. >> . . . the world where the rich get rich at the expense of the poor while telling them they are giving them freedom, justice and peace.

    I dunno, this Wright guy sounds kind of like one of them truthers.

    • Incoming president”s 17 cabinet appointees (to date) are wealthier than one-third of U.S. households. They have enough money and power to make America great again! Let’s pray they do the right thing.

      Merry Christmas to all from Maine.

      • Not to worry, Ted. Those incoming have no interest in promoting freedom, justice and peace…

        • Can we just give it a rest…a least for the next day or so?

          • Perhaps you should address your comment to the initiator of the the political slant of this thread.

            It’s funny, though, that we Christians think that a “rest” for the next day or so is warranted in this season, when there was none for Joseph and Mary, and there is none for the people of Aleppo.

    • Funny, I actually had a similar thought (though the truthers never entered into it). After all, it’s the globalists and progressives in our time who say that they’re giving those things to the world, not the nationalists and localists. And it’s true that Caesar and Rome were sort of the “globalists” of their time.

      But the comparison runs into problems, because Rome and Caesar also embodied the same kind of chauvinistic pride and ethnocentrism involved in much modern nationalism. And the glorification of militarism in modern nationalism and ancient Rome is much the same in tone and character. I mean, the modern Third Reich looked to Rome as its model, and its nationalism had global ambitions, as any successful nationalist movement ultimately will in our own time, because growth and expansion is an irresistible inertial force in any successful social movement.

      The question is, will the tendency toward globalism intrinsic to all human social projects be realized primarily by means of military might brought to bear on all other societies by one nation and people, or will it be primarily through economic expansion by means of an admittedly imperfect collegial relationship among all nations?

      • will the tendency toward globalism intrinsic to all human social projects be realized primarily by means of military might brought to bear on all other societies by one nation and people, or will it be primarily through economic expansion by means of an admittedly imperfect collegial relationship among all nations?

        It could also be a “neither/or” rather than an “either/or”. Periods of “globalism” in the past have always contracted into collapse after a certain point…

        • Yes, they have contracted into collapse but then new and more expansive projects of globalism arose, like the modern ones. They are certainly not guaranteed to succeed as individual projects, but the ambition is a perennial characteristic of all increasingly organized and successful societies, and I would say of the human spirit. We can either try to learn how to manage that characteristic in a humane and mutually beneficial way, or we can let the worst among us embody it in the form of a boot stomping faces, as the reviving nationalism in our own time will if given its own druthers. Look to what’s happening in the Philippines today for a preview of how things will be if the troglodytes around the world are allowed to prevail.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I mean, the modern Third Reich looked to Rome as its model, and its nationalism had global ambitions…

        Ever since Rome, EVERY European nationalism with global ambitions has looked to Rome as its model.

        Especially after the Renaissance, when Greco-Roman Fanboying swept the continent like some form of Cargo Cult — “Rome had an Absolute Emperor by Divine Right, so must we! Rome had slavery, so must we! Romans used torture, so must we! Greeks subjugated their women, so must we! ROME RULED THE ENTIRE WORLD, SO MUST WE! AWE KAESAR!!!!”

  5. One thing for sure: though it may transcend human political partisanship, the Kingdom of God is nevertheless a political realm. That’s why its king had to be crucified by the kings and leaders (I include the professional religious among them) of this world, in that time or any time.

    Peace on earth, good will to all, and a Merry Christmas.

  6. We are well served to remember that He is the same yesterday, today and forever. That means that we don’t only look backward to take note of how He utterly defied expectation but remain vigilant for the same possibility in our life and times. A predicative smugness can leave us blind and separated from intuition, thinking we know His ways and how he can be expected to behave. That leaves us walking next to the Magi but not seeing a star, only a sky full of stars.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Like the Rapture Ready fanboys with their End Time Prophecy Tribulation Checklists and Charts that have God All Figured Out, everything plotted out and timed down to the minute. (tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick…)

      Like Calvin fanboys with their Perfectly Parsed, Truly Reformed Theology that has God All Figured Out.

      Like Got Hard of ABPI with all his workbooks and lesson plans that has the Perfect Godly Life All Figured Out.

      • Yup. Absolute empirical certainty. Hmmm? Even the greatest prophet ever to live had to double check, “are you the one or do we look for another?” That’s not to say there is never a time for surety. Certainty is certainly a two edged sword. Sometimes a friend, sometimes a foe. A time for all things. Merry Christmas HUG!

        • These days I work hard to keep a theological perspective that allows for my own vast uncertainties, but doesn’t freeze me into silence and inaction. Such a perspective necessarily allows that I may be terribly wrong in my always provisional thoughts, conclusions and actions (even if I have the best intentions), and still be the constant recipient of God’s grace and redemptive love, even in the midst of my ongoing error. I suppose it’s become my one non-negotiable theological affirmation, and it necessarily means that I must always extend the same benefit of the doubt to others, even when I strongly disagree with and even oppose them in word and action.

          • amen

          • “… a theological perspective that allows for my own vast uncertainties, but doesn’t freeze me into silence and inaction.”. That’s a good summation.

          • Brianthe(grand)dad says:

            Very true and very astutely stated. I have boiled down my version of that to, “I reserve the right to be wrong.” I try to operate with that in mind in things theological and political.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Yup. Absolute empirical certainty. Hmmm?

          “Yes, in this quest to seek and find God in all things there is still an area of uncertainty. There must be. If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation.”
          — Pope Francis I

  7. Last minute shoppers
    throng narrow superstore aisles –
    no room at the inn.

  8. A rainy Christmas
    shivers on wet homeless streets —
    no room at the inn.

  9. a few candles burn
    before Mary’s image but
    her light shines within

  10. Burro [Mule] says:

    Let John the golden-tongued lift your hearts:

    Come, then, let us observe the Feast.
    Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity.
    For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight,
    the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked,
    the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us,
    error driven out, truth has been brought back,
    the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side,
    a heavenly way of life has been ‘in planted on the earth,
    angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

    Why is this?

    Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven;
    on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh.
    He did not become God. He was God.
    Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive.
    He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things arc nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother.
    So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him.
    Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny;
    and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

    • Randy Thompson says:

      Thanks for the healthy (as in healing) dose of St. John Chrysostom.

      And by the way, Merry Christmas to all (and since it’s 10 p.m here in New Hampshire) and to all a good night!

  11. Christiane says:

    Have a wonderful Christmas everyone. God Bless and keep you and yours safe through this holiday season.

  12. Leila Smith says:

    Merry Christmas to all and blessings and protection though this upcoming year to everyone and their loved ones!