Today, remember the story of what Christmas is really all about. It goes like this: A long time ago, God's people were suffering.
Their land had been conquered by a mighty empire from the west: Rome. The empire brought organization, order, and economic
growth. They built highways, introduced their "civilized" culture, imposed their "modern" laws and politics,
and instituted "free" trade.
From the perspective of the conquerors, this was a great arrangement. The whole point of empires, of course, is the massive
and systematic transfer of wealth from the conquered provinces to the conquerors. Empires are designed to make the rich richer
while everyone else scrapes by at best. They are the absolute worst things people ever dreamed up.
Hence, to regular folks, the empire was a disaster. Only the wealthy really benefitted, while everyone else fell deeper
into debt and paid increasingly higher taxes. Families were uprooted and forced to relocate to find work. The empire wrote
the rules. They had the best army in the world, and they always won. Their culture and values prevailed so that even the
religious institutions were corrupted.
Some people rose up in rebellion. But the imperial army tracked these people down and killed them. Others separated
themselves from the society and went to live in the wilderness. But most people had no choice but to go along with the empire
and just do their best to survive.
So, God intervened. From the time of Pharaoh's empire in Egypt, there is nothing that God hates so much as an empire.
Every time one organizes itself, God breaks it down, so that history is strewn with shattered and collapsed empires. They
all did unspeakable damage, made a few people wildly wealthy and everyone else miserable, and then fell.
In this case, God sent an angel to a young woman named Mary, informing her that she was to bear a son who would be the
promised Redeemer. His name would be Jesus, which means Savior. He would liberate the people from the power of the empire.
He would take away from the rich and lift up the poor, heal the sick and cast out demons. And he would reign as the new and
permanent king over God's people.
In the middle of her pregnancy, the emperor decided to hold a census. Mary and her fiancÚ, Joseph, had to schlepp from
their home in Nazareth all the way to Bethlehem, where his family was from. When they got there they could find no place
to stay except a stable, and it was there that she had her baby.
To celebrate this birth, God sent more angels, this time to a bunch of shepherds. Being a shepherd was about the lowest
form of employment in those days. God did this to show that it was the poor who were supposed to benefit from the arrival
of the new king.
God also arranged for a spectacular new star to appear in the sky when Jesus was born. Some astrologers from the east
saw the star, guessed its significance, and came to worship Jesus. They were from Persia, the empire's mortal enemy. These
foreigners recognized and accepted the new king, while the empire's puppet, King Herod, immediately tried to kill him. Jesus
and his parents had to flee to Egypt as refugees.
Like his birth, the entire ministry of Jesus would be about resistance to the empire. He chose to live in poverty rather
than participate in the oppressive imperial economy. He demonstrated a lifestyle of non-violence, forgiveness, and healing.
He manifested God's justice, righteousness, peace, and love in everything that he did.
When he was arrested and questioned by the imperial governor, he said his kingdom was "not of this world."
He called those who trusted and followed him to live according to the values of another world, which he called "the Kingdom
of God." He said this other world was "at hand," or readily available to those who seek it. He promised that
whoever trusted him would not perish but live forever in this other world! Finally, he said that the empires of this world
would be vanquished and swallowed up by God's Kingdom, when he returned.
Ever since he came people have had a choice. We may live according to the values of whatever empire happens to be temporarily
thriving at the moment... but if we do we will perish and suffer the judgment God has in store for all injustice, corruption,
self-centeredness, and sin. Or we may live according to the values of God's Kingdom, and so dwell in joy forever with Jesus
Another Christmas will soon be history. In a world all too willing to accept violence and lies, let us learn to choose
Jesus' way of peace and truth.