Excerpt from a message given at Durham Friends Meeting, December 15, 2019
Here’s one way of looking at it.
Take the four gospels. Each tells a story of a life. For the moment, put the Christmas story, the birth, to one side. And also put to one side the stuff at the end about the end of Jesus’s life: about Jesus coming to Jerusalem where he’s arrested, crucified and resurrected. Now without that beginning and that end, we have the story of a preacher and healer who wanders the countryside doing and saying attention-getting things. Fresh things. World turned upside down things. Be humble. Be so generous as to give away your only coat. Love your enemy no matter what. In that big middle story, Jesus gets crosswise with the religious leaders of his time. He heals on the sabbath, for example. But Jesus really doesn’t encounter a soldier or a policeman. He’s never really in danger. He never gets a ticket or a fine. He never spends a day in jail.
In the middle of the story there’s no mention of the Emperor or the Romans. And they’re in control, we need to remember. The Romans have conquered Israel and Judah and subjugated them. Their Empire is the greatest, the mightiest ever known. At the end of story, when Jesus comes to Jerusalem, Jesus does get in trouble with the authorities. Crucifixion is a Roman penalty for the most serious crimes – for challenging the authority of the Emperor.
If we remember how it ends, that puts the Christmas story in a new light. The Christmas story announces the birth of a king: not just a mighty king, but the mightiest of all. It announces the birth of a king who will sweep away all worldly kings, even the Roman emperor. Born in a stable, laid in a manger. But here is a baby to whom the wisest of kings bow down. Here is a baby attended by angels. Here is baby who is hunted by a wicked king, but a baby who escapes and triumphs. And here triumphant is a new kind of king who triumphs through love not through the sword.
“This is the Anti-Empire,” we might call this story. This is the empire out-empired. The story at the end is the same story told at the beginning. Christmas and Resurrection are versions of the same story.
[The full message can be found at River View Friend.]