The Christmas story confounds my expectations of God. The angels in Luke’s Gospel bring news of peace, which will have been heard by his audience against the backdrop of a similar claim by the Roman empire. The Empire’s peace was in reality a subjugation, in which wealth was stripped from the poor and the merest hint of rebellion was ruthlessly crushed. Within a few years of Jesus’s birth, for example, the death of Roman puppet king, Herod, was met with jubilation and an attempt to install an Israelite in his place. The Roman response was swift and bloody. A legion was despatched, the city of Sepphoris razed to the ground, it’s inhabitants enslaved and 2000 rebels crucified. Welcome to the peace of Rome.
And here’s how God’s peace comes. God becomes incarnate as a tiny, vulnerable baby, born to poor parents, and living in a rural town far removed from the centre of power. Rather than using the power of heaven to vanquish Rome, he becomes subject to the mundane brutalities of the regime. He grows up to become a prophet of justice, grace and subversive wisdom, which seems more promising, and found a movement committed to building community based on love, grace, generosity and forgiveness, but is executed just as his movement was gaining momentum.
Yet it is Jesus’s birth we celebrate today, not Caesar’s. It seems that God knows a thing or two about peace. God refuses the shortcut of an imposed peace in favour of the messy, painfully slow process of persuasion and grassroots change. It is revolution from the inside out and from the bottom up. And it’s the only kind of revolution that lasts.