Peace Is No Small Thing – The Rev. Michelle Meech
December 24, 2021
It feels good to say this. It feels good to be celebrating Christmas in our sanctuary.
These past two years have been among the most difficult years I’ve ever encountered in my 50+ years. Perhaps you feel a little like that yourself. All of the loss we’ve experienced – loss of life, loss of ease, loss of employment, loss of togetherness. And all the while, navigating different expectations and rules. Feeling angry, frustrated, anxious.
It’s so important to acknowledge all that we’ve been going through and realize that most people are going through many of the same things. In this we find compassion and in compassion, we find peace. Peace is no small thing.
I’m not necessarily talking about the cessation of hostility and war, although that is certainly a huge part of it. I’m talking about the deep peace that nestles into our being when the voices of judgment in our head stop – voices like, “I’m not doing enough.” “This isn’t right.” “That person isn’t doing enough.”
When those stop long enough for us to hear the silence of the night and in that silence, our heartbeat, our breathing… connected to all the other hearts and breath in creation. This is the peace that is no small thing.
I’ve always found it interesting that the story of the birth of Christ starts out with “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus…” You see, it’s impossible to tell our most sacred story – a spiritual story – without reference to the powers and principalities of the world. Because the spiritual is always embedded in this physical reality, in this incarnation, this space-time continuum that we call the world. And in the places where they meet – the world and the spirit – in the thin places, is always where you find the sacred.
The power of Emperor Augustus was absolute in that time and that space. Caesar Augustus, of course, ruled over the Roman Empire and his rule marked a time of peace known as the Pax Romana, which many called the Pax Augusta and hailed Augustus as lord and savior of the world.
But the “world” only went as far as the Roman citizenry because, although there were no wars inside the borders of the Roman Empire, that didn’t stop Rome from warring with those outside its borders in order to conquer them, subsume them into the empire, and expand its own worldly power.
Bethlehem was a walled city about 2 miles south of Jerusalem. At the time about which we are talking – when Jesus was born – this area was known as Judea and had been under Roman rule for about 60 years. Rome was paying local people to manage the population on their behalf – it’s why we mention King Herod in the follow-up story of the Epiphany. Herod was a Jew but was paid by Rome. Once they had this structure solidly in place, Rome required people to register so that they could be taxed by Rome. And this is why Joseph and Mary found themselves traveling. They had to register in the place in which Joseph was born.
It helps to hear the history, I think, to get some understanding of the context, because it helps us to understand exactly what was happening and why so that we don’t over-spiritualize the scriptures and forget that the sacred is found where the physical world meets the spiritual one. It helps us to imagine, for ourselves, what Mary and Joseph must have been going through, what their lives must have been like. What would this story look like for us? Today? Who is the empire and who are the people who are required to be registered and tracked? Who have they been in our recent history? The powers and principalities of the world are always going to be a part of the story. Especially the story of the sacred, the story of Jesus.
Because this Pax Romana, this “peace of the world” is not the same as the peace we come to know through Jesus. The peace of the world is about systems so that things are ordered and labeled and codified. The peace of the world rewards people who navigate these systems successfully. It marginalizes those who do not. And it makes enemies of those who challenge the systems themselves. So, the peace of the world is most certainly not the peace of everyone of all of creation.
Jesus comes as the Prince of Peace. And this peace is no small thing because it’s born of Love. God’s wild and extravagant and boundless Love for me and for you and for all of creation. A love that we share when we yield to its call inside us.
We know that this person Jesus studied Jewish scriptures as a young Jewish boy. We know he grew up and started teaching in the synagogues. We know he openly criticized the powers that be when he spoke about caring for and healing those who were marginalized. We know he led others and created a movement during a tumultuous time when Jewish people were struggling with being a part of the system or not being a part of the system. We know that he spoke about God as closer to us than our own breath. And we know he died because of his “politics.” Sold out by the religious leaders and killed by the state in order to maintain the “peace of the world.”
And because he was someone who did all these things, we want to know: How did he come to have the strength and the wisdom and the power to accomplish them? To create a movement which we are still a part of over 2000 years later? Where did this all come from? Where it always comes from – the most vulnerable place, where the world meets something other-worldly, the place where God resides always.
Not in the power of the world and its systems, the power to disregard the ones who cannot make due, the power to ostracize the ones who don’t fit in, the power to exterminate the ones who get in our way. Not there. Never there.
But in the most vulnerable – a newborn. One who cannot feed themself, cannot clothe themself, cannot house themself. Because if only when we see a newborn, do we realize that we are one another’s keeper. We belong to one another. This is where the world meets the not-world. This is the sacred.
This one, this one of Peace. This is the one who stops us in our self-centered ways, who trips us up when we choose to be a part of the system even when we see what can do to others. This is the one who brings us to our knees in the filth of an animal shack in the middle of the dark night. This is the one who reminds us of our own defenselessness and so this is the one we call Savior. God’s child. Love incarnate.
The Light of the world who will lead us out of the false peace we embed ourselves in so that we can stay safe… and into true peace, the Love that God has always offered to us as our birthright. Into the Love that reminds us just how precious and vulnerable we all are because we all breath the same air and we are all made of the same earth.
This love that comes down to be born on Christmas is real. It’s the most real thing there is in all of creation because it is the very foundation of creation. It is our birthright. It is the connection we all have to one another. And so we bow down before this one because, this Love. This is God’s glory. This is God’s peace.