Everything is turned upside down. Much to everyone’s astonishment it’s not Augustus who is the real son of God, the saviour who bring good news of peace ”“ no, it’s Jesus. And the proclamation is made not in the public forum in front of the Roman citizens but to the shepherds on the hill sides, who were the social outcasts. And as the narrative unfolds Simeon and Anna proclaim that this child, Jesus, is the one who will become the saviour of God’s people, not Augustus or for that matter, any earthly ruler, especially those who govern by the sword and with violence.
Now so much of our celebration of Christmas has sanitized these insights. Take popular carols, such as ”˜While shepherds watched their flocks by night’ or ”˜O little town of Bethlehem’ which give us a romaticised, privatised interpretation of Christmas, which, though I love them too, have no little bearing on the world in all its pain and suffering. These carols give us a piety which is only about feeling an inner sense of peace. Now there is nothing wrong with feeling inner peace. It’s just that here in Luke chapter 2 the events are profoundly political. This is the Christ who is born into a country which has been occupied by foreign forces, where its people are oppressed and where he comes to bring peace founded in justice.
And so let’s return to where we started: that cold Christmas day in 1914 where peace broke for a few hours. It did not come from the politicians who were safely back in Blightly tucked up with their families in the warm with their turkey lunch. Peace did not come from the generals ”“ they certainly didn’t order a cease fire. No, it came because ordinary soldiers, recalling the events of Christmas, put down their weapons and dared to venture out into no man’s land.
If we are going to find true peace in our world today, it will not come primarily through the politicians and certainly not through the soldiers who may keep the peace, but cannot alone establish it.
Peace will come when ordinary men and women like you and me, dare to climb out the trenches that we have dug to protect ourselves, the trenches of fear, of greed, of hatred. Can we show similar courage to that of the First World War soldiers who stuck their heads above the parapets?