I wonder what the shepherds were talking about under that lone tree in the fields, as they watched their flocks that night.
You know they had to be talking. What else could shepherds do as they watched their sheep sleep? Perhaps one of them expressed worry about his son who was drinking his life away. Perhaps one of them was worried about finances. I imagine it was difficult to support a family on a night-shift shepherd salary. Perhaps one was worried about his struggling marriage, which had grown cold after all those years. The more he worked at it, the worse it became. Or maybe they were pondering the recent census ordered by Quirinius and the heavy taxation soon to follow.
I don’t know what the shepherds were talking about in the fields that night, but I know the sorts of discussions 2014 has placed on the table. In this year, we’ve seen the rise of ISIS and the evil that can be inflicted by radical fundamentalists. We’ve watched in horror as entire towns were held in their grasp and heads rolled. We watched as conflicts in Syria and the Ukraine sent entire people groups running for their lives. We watched as EBOLA spread and took lives. We watched as racial conflicts destroyed the illusion of living in a post-racial society. I don’t know what the shepherds were struggling with that night long ago, but I know the disturbing news which has sent us to our knees this year.
Into the midst of their fears and anxieties, the heavens opened and angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest…and on earth, peace.” Peace.
It seems absurd to utter that word in our chaotic and fractured world today. When there is animosity between the religions, tension between the races, division between the classes, and war between the nations how can we even think of peace? To speak of peace in our day is either comical on the one hand or revolutionary on the other.
One neglected aspect of the Christmas story, at least in the way Luke tells it, is the Roman backdrop to this scene. The whole story begins with the phrase, “In the days of Caesar Augustus.” These were the days when Rome ruled the world. Empire was having its way. Might was making right. And of course, Rome, like all empires, couched their control in the language of peace. They called it the “Pax Romana” or “peace of Rome.” But the peace of empire isn’t true peace. It is subjugation and control, which only lasts as long as you are the big kid on the block. It is not creation in the ways of God, but politics in the ways of empire.
But when Jesus was born as a “Savior, Christ the Lord,” he was born as an alternative to the ways of Rome. The peace from the angels that night was a different sort of peace from a different sort of Lord. It wasn’t the peace that comes from subduing or killing your enemies, but the peace that comes from loving them and being reconciled to them. It’s not the sort of peace that comes from controlling people by overt force and power, but the sort that comes from inspiring people with authentic love and service. It’s not the sort of peace that comes from halls of power; it’s the sort of peace that shows up in mangers and fields. It’s not the sort of peace that comes from silencing the other; but the sort of peace that comes from actually listening to them. It’s not the sort of peace we achieve through military victory, but the sort of peace we receive through grace.
It is a pervasive peace, which begins deep in our own fractured and alien hearts and spreads from person to person, religion to religion, nation to nation. It allows us to make peace with our own souls so that we live out of our true selves rather than our false selves. We can be honest about ourselves and with ourselves. This peace reconciles us to God, so that we need not keep looking for something else to worship or running from the One who can’t be escaped. It brings us closer to people, even those with whom we disagree. It unites and reconciles, bringing together shepherds and angels, heaven and earth, Rome and Bethlehem.
So, as we reflect on this Christmas season and all that 2014 brought us, may we open ourselves to this peace. It is this peace that the world longs to receive. It is this peace which God longs to give. It’s almost too good to be true…almost. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth… peace! PEACE!!!