Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Peaceable Christmas: Only The Beginning

In Luke's Christmas narrative, angels announce peace on earth. In Matthew's Christmas narrative, the king of the Jews slaughters children in Bethleham in order to do away with Jesus. The violence of humanity is confronted by the peace of God, but the violence does not disappear. Rather, it intensifies. Perhaps this gets us to a meaning of Jesus's mission statement that he came not to bring peace, but a sword. He knew that his way, his politics, would not simply cause enemies to disarm themselves, turning their swords into plowshares. Instead, his way was a threat to enemy authority and rule, and the only way they knew to deal with threats was death. Violence is the empire's weapon, death is the empire's solution.

At Christmas there is an attempt on Jesus's life. It might seem a somewhat crude question, but it just occurred to me -  if Jesus were killed in Herod's Christmas massacre, would his death have had the same effects as the death he suffered in his thirties? Judging by the Apostle's Creed we might posit that it would have -- though we would have to substitute 'Pontius Pilate' for 'Herod the Great' -- but surely not. Surely Christmas wasn't enough. Surely the death of God incarnate wasn't enough. (There's a sentence to quote out of context if you want to get me in hot water!)

The fact that Jesus was spared by God at Christmas is a sign that Christmas is only the beginning of the story of God's peace on earth. It is only a hint of what is to come. In Matthew and Luke's narratives, it is hinted that the powers that be will not be pleased with what God is up to. He will not support their violence, as well intentioned as it might be. He will not sanctify it. He will not justify it. He will grieve it:

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, "Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes."

Christmas is not the good news of a new metaphysics. Incarnation does not name a static reality that is salvific in and of itself. It names the story of God with us in this particular way, in this particular child who would grow up to be a king unlike all the other kings of all the other nations. Incarnation names the story of the things of God that alone can make for peace: Love of enemies, refusal to repay evil with evil, forgiveness of our debtors, dinner with strangers.

Ultimately, Incarnation names the passion narrative, the definitive confrontation between our violence and God's peace. God will not support our violence. He will not sanctify it. He will not justify it. He will weep over it, but not only that - He will forgive it, because He justifies by resurrection the One who,

"when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed."

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