When the Angel appeared to the Shepherds in the field that night, Judea had been living under Roman occupation for more than 60 years. Caesar had gained control of most of the known world from England to India. In every town he entered, in every Roman conquered province, the people were commanded to bow before Caesar and declare him: “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”
If you denied Caesar his praise, you were nailed to two pieces of wood that formed a horrific torture device designed to kill you publicly and slowly, clearly dominated by the Roman King you refused to worship. It was called crucifixion. In 41BCE, The Caesar was officially declared to be the Divine incarnate; a God amongst humans. Caesar’s son was called, “The Son of God.” There was an inscription found dated back to 9BCE that said: "The Birthday of Caesar has been for the whole world the beginning of 'The Good News.’” In 4BCE, the Judean town Emmaus was burned to the ground, and two thousand people were slaughtered. This was gospel good news according to Caesar: peace for a select few by sword and blood and domination.
Long before the Angels appeared in that field and Jesus was birthed from the womb of a Jewish woman, Caesar was called a God among men, the saviour of the world; he demanded to be worship and called his son the son of God. His Gospel was that the whole world would be Roman.
So, when Angels declared that a (different) saviour had been born and that through him, everybody everywhere would find peace, it would have rocked their worlds on every single level. This declaration wasn’t just a few lines that would inspire some Christmas Carols and movies in times to come; it had incredible political, social, and personal implications for those who had experienced the Gospel of Caesar.
Through forgiveness, service, talking, reconciling… speaking truth to power and outright refusing to let domination and control guide our choices, and rejecting the temptation to control others through violence and manipulation. It’s about choosing to see the Divine thread in everyone everywhere. Peace is fierce, humble and inclusive all at the same time.
“In Hebrew peace, shalom, means fullness, means having everything you need to be wholly and happily yourself.” wrote Frederick Buchner. “For Jesus, peace seems to have meant not the absence of struggle, but the presence of love."
Every year, my kids pick out gifts to give our friends from their Useful Gifts catalogue, and it’s amazing to see their young hearts start to grasp the reality of our world, and the possibility of what their engagement and contribution can do - how they can be agents of peace in a conflicted world.
Peace, like love, is just as subversive now as it was back then when the angles sang to shepherds in the dead of night.