There is no time during the year when the image of gentle Jesus meek and mild is as strong in our imaginations as on Christmas day. We love the sweet, tender image of the virgin holding her new born child as he softly coos and animals, shepherds and angels stare dreamily at the scene. Softly a guitar plays “Silent night, holy night, all is calm all is bright”. After all, this was God’s son coming down into to his own creation, how could it be anything else? This is a beautiful picture and resonates well with the Christian mind which would love the opportunity to see the infant Jesus and welcome him into this world with the shepherds. This picture is beautiful, serene and poses no threat to anyone, how could anyone not love this and not want to celebrate this day?
As lovely as this picture is, we must not forget that it is not the whole story, only a very small part of what Christmas is. If we are to apply the titles in Isaiah 9 to Jesus, as the Church has done since the beginning, then we must understand how these titles impact the scene of Jesus’ birth. Isaiah 9 refers to the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”; these are not everyday titles they are royal epithets. He was born the king who rules in God’s power and wisdom, the king who stands as father to all humanity and who brings full and complete peace. In the midst of Roman rule Jesus was the one meant to restore God’s rule over us as God’s people. Jesus was the one who was to exercise God’s wisdom, power, and position to bring about God’s peace. The beautiful scene of mother and child was God throwing down the gauntlet, declaring open war on those who would claim to rule the world.
Jesus was born king of the earth, a direct challenge to anyone who wishes to govern or rule. Herod understood this from the beginning, if the magi were right then his position was threatened. Herod’s slaughter of the innocents was not simply the reaction of a madman, it was the predicable response toward Jesus by anyone who wants to hold onto power. Herod knew he was a usurper to the throne he held, just as all who try to rule in Christ’s place are usurpers, and the only way he could hold power was to kill the rightful king.
Jesus may be the rightful king of this world, but, he was born into a hostile country, born to lead a revolution against all those who would style themselves kings and rulers. I read an excellent piece this week on how we often forget that Revelation tells us that the Dragon was waiting to devour Jesus as he was born (Chad Bird “When the Dragon Tried to Eat Jesus“). This is a theological telling of the Christmas story, revealing to us that in his incarnation, Jesus, as king, was opposed to and opposed by the empires of this world. Likewise, if we support this king born in a manger we will be in opposition to these empires. The Dragon perused Jesus from the outset and still, though defeated, attempts to rule the world today. Today, we definitely do celebrate the birth of a King who is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords the one who will govern in wisdom and peace; but, we must remember that he was born into a world which tried to kill him from the time he was born. These powers were committed to “worldly passions” (Titus 2:12) passions that seek power and wealth. We tend to associate these with interior personal struggles; yet, worldly passions are the very systems by which empires run. Systems which are designed to allow one group of people to stay in control. Jesus came to destroy these systems and those committed to them fought back (and continue to fight).
Herod was one individual who was aligned to these worldly passions, and he did the only thing he could do when presented with a newborn king who would rule with wisdom, justice, and peace, he attacked. He attacked on behalf of all empires then and now; he attacked on behalf of the Dragon, who wants to remain in control of the world. The attack failed to kill the child, but, the attacks continued until one finally gained its intent, Jesus was killed and the war was won. But what Herod, Pilate, the Temple authorities, and perhaps Satan himself did not count on was that in Jesus’ death he won the war.
The war may be won the True King may be on the throne, but, we still live in enemy occupied territory, we are still fighting the ideology of empire that sought to kill Jesus. Revelation 12 continues that even after the baby is snatched from the Dragon’s mouth, the Dragon continues to fight against those who support the True King. As C.S. Lewis described, we are agents behind enemy lines, as the last remnants of a once great power continue a desperate fight. We tend to get mixed up in nationalistic ideals seeing an autocratic atheistic communist nation (like the now deceased USSR) as the empire to which Jesus is opposed and then we support any nation state opposed to that enemy. But, the empire Jesus came to oppose is not a nation state; it is a way of thinking which uses violence, wealth, or other oppressive means to keep authority over others whether citizens or not. It is empire thinking to hoard abundant resources for one’s self, or to fail to offer safety to someone in desperate need of refuge. The Dragon who tried to swallow Jesus did not rule the Roman Empire, nor did he rule the province of Judea. The Dragon ruled and rules over every action and attitude which is opposed to God’s wisdom and peace. And Christ came to this world to inaugurate a new attack I echo Chad Bird, that on Christmas we see:
Silent night, violent night, hell and heaven, meet to fight.
The great news is that the Prince of Peace was victorious and that we can align ourselves with him to eliminate the empires which sought to kill him.
CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS, PLEDGE ALLIGENCE TO THE KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS!