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    Jesus the Prince of Peace

    December 25, 2019

    Jesus the Prince of Peace

    Fr. Don Anton Saman Hettiarachchi Parish PriestSt. Anthony’s ChurchMount Lavinia

    The birth story of Jesus in Luke 2, 1-20 (the Reading of the Christmas Liturgy at midnight and dawn) narrates that “the whole world” – the whole Roman world: Rome, Italy and the Roman provinces – is engaged in a census. In the midst of this census, Jesus is born.

    Luke the Evangelist combines Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem with this census or secular history. He wishes to underline the significance of Jesus’ birth (that occurs in one of the Roman provinces) for the whole Roman world.

    What is the cosmic significance of Jesus’ birth? The world, now busy with census, needs badly true peace and salvation. It is through this Child born in Bethlehem that peace and salvation will come to the whole Roman Empire; it is this Babe born at Bethlehem, the House of Bread, who will be the Bread of salvation and peace to the world history.

    Who decrees the census? It is “Caesar Augustus.” The Roman Empire regarded Augustus as ‘saviour’ and ‘god.’ It credited him with establishing a time of peace, the Pax Augusta (‘Peace of Augustus’), during his long reign from 27 BC to 14 AD since he could end almost a century old civil war that had ravaged the Roman realms and close at last the doors of the shrine of Janus in the Roman Forum, thrown open in times of war. Here, some historical evidence:

    i. The Ara Pacis Augustae (a great altar) was erected in 13-9 BC to the peace brought about by Augustus.

    ii. The Greek cities of Asia Minor adopted September 23, the birthday of Augustus, as the first day of the New Year.

    iii. At Halicarnassus, Augustus was hailed as the saviour of the whole world.

    iv. The Priene inscription grandiosely proclaimed Augustus as god: “The birthday of the god marked the beginning of the good news for the world.”

    Contradicting this imperial propaganda, Luke the Evangelist intends to underline:

    i. that the edict of Augustus provides a solemn setting for the birth of Jesus and so, the great emperor is simply God’s agent, like the Persian king Cyrus (559-529 BC) in Isaiah 44, 28 – 45, 1, who provided the occasion for God’s purposes to be accomplished – as he conquered Babylon (538 BC), liberated the Jews from their captivity, permitted them to return to Israel and patronized the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple.

    ii. that Jesus is the true peace-bearer. People built an altar to the Pax Augustae, but a heavenly chorus proclaims the pax Christi (‘Peace of Christ’): “… and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests” (2,14).

    iii. that the birth of Jesus is the dawn of a new age. People marked the birthday of Augustus as the beginning of the good news for the world.

    However, the birthday that marked the true beginning of a new time took place not in Rome but in Bethlehem. The angel of the Lord heralds, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." (2,10).

    iv. that Jesus is the real Saviour, Lord and Messiah. People honoured Augustus as their saviour and deified him as their god. But the heavens proclaim Jesus as Saviour, Lord and Messiah: “For today in the city of David a saviour has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (2,11).

    “… and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests” - Luke 2,1-20

    The multitude of the heavenly host with the angel sings, “… and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” The Christ event brings peace. This peace is for those whom God has favoured with His grace. This peace is more than the absence of war of the Pax Augusta. It also includes the prosperity, security, integrity and well-being characteristic of peace (shalom) in the Old Testament.

    Jesus, the Prince of Peace for Today

    Today the world thirsts for peace. The post-war Sri Lanka too cries for peace still. The heavy avalanche of politicization, unemployment and racism fallen on us has kept peace still a dream for us. This peace which the whole of humanity pants for can be drawn only from one fountain, Jesus who is the Saviour, Messiah, Lord and Peace-bearer. The present day Caesars – political powers and world organisations – cannot usher in true peace to our lives. Those, whose lives are dominated by the values of God’s Kingdom, live in peace, though financially rich or poor and politically and socially influential or powerless.

    Jesus, the Prince of Peace, has commissioned us, His disciples, to be ambassadors of peace till His second coming into our human history. “Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’

    If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you” (Luke 10,5-6). Here the greeting of peace is not merely a Jewish salutation but an effective word. If it finds no worthy recipient, it will return to the speaker. During this Christmas, we will bear this peace of Christ, a messianic blessing, to all the people of good will with whom we co-exist in this tiny land of ours.

    God of unlikely champion
    Wednesday, December 25, 2019 - 01:00
    Print Edition
    Features
    Dr. Lalith Mendis

    In an age when many think God is a big bully, we find in the Christmas story how God makes champions out of nobodies. Incarnation incorporated most of human misery and much of human hope.

    The Divine Romance

    John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

    Christmas was a great love story – between God and man and Mary and Joseph. God had to find a couple who will give their all – their future and aspirations, to be the God bearer couple. This would foul up their marriage plans, dream honeymoon on the cruise ship and bring ridicule and suspicion. It would mean in the last difficult days of confinement, they would do an arduous journey from despised Nazareth Galilee to Royal Bethlehem and domineering Jerusalem. An unknown pheasant virgin and carpenter will become globally and eternally famous. He is the God of unlikely champions, God of the sparrow and the swallow, God of small things and massive Universe. He is our God, Immanuel – God with us, even now in every need. He is with the Snapchat youth and with the Corporate big bosses, the Innkeepers, teaching them to find room for the dispossessed, disadvantaged, handicapped alienated, outcastes. They all had Christmas.

    Joy for all the people

    Luke 2:10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people”

    * Whom we like, dislike - Near or far, stranger or friend

    * Upright or wicked, God fearing or God hating

    * Well bred or ill bred, seniors and juniors

    * Our own children, relatives

    * All religions, all races

    * All societal groups, outcasts – lepers, beggars,

    Gospel is the Only Way from fear to joy.

    Very early Mary was told your firstborn will pierce your heart because of his early death. Luke 2:35 (yea, a sword shall pierce through your own soul also),

    A helpless babe, unarmed, powerless, born to poverty - Simon said, will cause the fall of the mighty and the rise of the needy. Joseph the carpenter gets to be chief steward of the Greatest Birth ever to be, though carpenters were held in low esteem.

    Family to the fore

    Lk1(49) For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. Obviously Mary had a history of God working for her. Her call to be God bearer did not come out of the blues, but from a long relationship of intimacy with her God. When all the highly placed virgin daughters of the nobility of Jerusalem desired to be the chosen virgin, God of small things, chose a Virgin from the backwoods of Nazareth, a city despised even in lowly Galilee. That is our God.

    Joseph held on to Mary through the time of insults for baby born suddenly. Perennial example of courage for faithful marriage. Joseph and Mary are role models for precious motherhood and fatherhood, in an age marriage, family and maternity are spurned.

    Politics and Religion – God is Champion

    Religion and politics had squeezed people bone dry and God sends a helpless babe to confront the duel evil of organised religion and self serving politics. Four tetrarchs as Herod did divisive politics where people served the feudal system along with four religious parties doing their religious politics. It was the height of Rome’s power and the dazzle of Greek egalitarianism – best of time for rulers and the worst of time for the subjects. King Herod seeks help from Religious hierarchy to exterminate Infant King Jesus – a threat to their hegemony.

    Last Becomes First

    Lowly and despised Galilee gets to choose the Virgin needed for Messiah’s birth launching a proletariat revolution. Uncouth despised shepherds get to see Infant King first. God yet saves babies from Herod, saboteurs, tyrants and tricks of the trades on screen and pleads with parents for bonding. The Neediest is left out of the Inn on first Christmas night – as it is today, when Christmas in five star hotel celebrations will not feed the poor.

    God of the poor saluted by a star

    The Poor, with straw and dung, made a birth room with beasts of burden giving way. Saviour God is born the meanest and lowliest, leaving no carbon print, wrapped in mom’s old clothes and no air con. Saviour’s cot is all natural – timber and straw, the abounding bacteria gives Him a good dose of immunity and with no pain killers – a completely non-chemical birth. The science of astronomy salutes the creator with the Wise men’s star.

    It is amazing that this God of majesty works with mercy for us, when humans are so reluctant to give mercy to their opponents.

    Mercy triumphs over justice

    Lk 1 (50) And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. Mercy is God’s working capital and our reverence, fear of God in our life, is His invitation to come and work on our behalf.

    Fear of God arises in our heart and mercy of God descends from His throne and the two meet in midair blessing the nation, all enter the knowledge of the Lord, Prov 1:7 – what a blessed nation we shall be. We are to live a Christian life that would launch our next generation into God fervor and God favour.

    Lk 1(51) He has worked power with His arm, He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart. This is entirely God’s curriculum. We only have to practice meekness in the face of oppression. The cry for justice and vengeance in the mouth of the Christian mitigates against his role as ambassador of mercy. Many criers of justice neglect the victims and take on fisticuffs against the oppressor.

    Christmas is a hybrid between divine and human romance. May that live in your hearts with the Messiah assuring you, peace on your patch of earth, as you give God the Glory and receive His favour for your daily needs and to transform your living habitat.

    (The writer is the Director of Colombo Empathic Life Centre)

     

     

     

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