I am a sucker for Christmas, I always have been and always will be. I don't mind when Christmas things start showing up in displays at hobby and sewing stores in August. I want it to be here all year long. I think God does too, only not in the commercial way that the stores have in mind, but in the genuine heartfelt change we see in the world every December. Oh, I am fond of the sparkle of the lights and the richness of the smells and the joyful sounds of carols and bells, but I love, love, love THE LOVE that is in the air.
In the dark of winter, there is the greatest light of hope in all the loving that we do for each other. The love we do for friends and relatives for sure, but most especially in the things we do for strangers; from "Merry Christmas" as we pass people we don't know, to putting change in a bell ringer's bucket, to providing resources to non-profits that help those in need. When we do these things we are the "Christ" in Christmas. We add to the love that fills the air and overwhelms us with a sense of good, a sense of the sacred.
Most people don't know that the Christmas stories about Jesus in the Bible had very modest beginnings as a small Jewish sect's radical opposition to an oppressive and violent empire of man. The Nativity narratives that form the nucleus of our Christmas traditions began as a revolution of love by Jesus followers who were bolding claiming that God worked through ordinary Joes (and Mary's), not elite emperors. And how they did this was simply brilliant; they co-opted the claims that the Roman Empire made about their god, Caesar, turning Rome's claims on their head as claims about Christ.
Long before these things were associated with Jesus, Rome claimed that Caesar was born of a virgin; associated with a star, the Son of God; Lord; Prince of Peace; Redeemer; and Savior of the World. Two outstanding modern Protestant and Catholic theologians, (respectively) Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, note that the Jesus followers' use of such phrases and claims for, "the newborn Jesus would [have been] either low lampoon or high treason and since empires always know their opponents, Rome was not laughing." The lofty phrases and claims were reserved for elite born emperors not lowly born peasant boys, and certainly not for those whom the empire convicts and executes. The Roman Empire sought peace on earth, the Pax Romana, through violent oppression and the deifying of its oppressive leaders. The Jesus followers claimed the opposite for its leader,i.e., Jesus, sought peace on earth through non-violent love and kindness.
It's a tribute to those early followers of Jesus that the terms Rome once gave to Caesar have forever become terms that we (and much of the rest of the world) associate with Jesus, most especially in the Nativity stories and at Christmas.
Moreover, every year at Christmas we prove that peace on earth through non-violent love and kindness is not impossible because for a month we practice it on a wide scale and it works. I cannot wait until we do it all year long.
Merry Christmas to all of you my dear readers!
The Rev. Scott Elliott is the pastor at Riviera United Church of Christ in Palm Bay. Visit Riviera UCC's website at rivieraucc.org.