Jesus comes to make the world right

  • December 13, 2011

Nativity of the Lord (Year B) Dec. 25 (Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-16)

Who are the people walking in darkness? This prophetic passage was originally addressed to the nation of Israel under threat from first the Assyrians and then the Babylonians. It was supposed to give them hope, courage and perseverance in the face of oppression and the collapse of their world. God had not abandoned them but would lead the nation to freedom and prosperity.

The prophecy ends with a promise of the restoration not only of Israel but the throne of David. But in a very real sense it is our story too, and the story of all people in all places and times. So often the reign of cruelty, tyranny and injustice seem overwhelming and invincible. They may have their day, but they do not fit into God’s vision for humanity and the world. Sooner or later they crumble and fall. In our own day we have seen the demise of tyrannical systems and regimes of all types: the Soviet Union, the Middle East, as well as challenges to power and privilege in our own nations. A cynic might read the passage describing the child born unto us and inquire about the everlasting peace, justice and righteousness. Where is it and when can we expect to see it on the horizon?

But the text gives us a clue. This is not the easy way out and there are no quick fixes. His authority shall grow continually — in other words, this describes a process rather than a once-and-for-all event. Humanity has indeed seen a great light. The light of God has come into the world at various times and in various forms and the definite manifestation was in the incarnation. But not all acknowledge the light of God, even many who claim to do so. The light must be received in the heart and mind and followed. Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace and Saviour the Lord certainly is but He does not come to whisk us away from the world. He comes rather to put right both the world and the people in it.

The author of Titus clearly saw this as he celebrates the grace of God that was manifested in Jesus. The salvation is meant for all and is meant to create a body of people who rejoice in doing good deeds. The life to which believers are called — self-controlled, upright and godly — is not meant to be a private asceticism or way of “getting saved.” It cannot be merely a religion. It is a new way of life — one that rejects all forms of injustice, violence, hatred, prejudice and selfishness and defines itself by compassionate action.

Those in power are used to issuing decrees and having them obeyed. Most power structures are designed to impose the will of an individual, group or ideology on the lives of others. As the story of the birth of Jesus opens, the decree of Caesar Augustus has caused a movement of many people and a disruption of their lives. History books are written by and about emperors, governors, politicians, generals and powerful individuals. But Luke cleverly demonstrates that this history is only an instrument for the real history of the world — God’s history. This census serves to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem so that Jesus would be born in the City of David, which was the prophesied birthplace of the Messiah. The appearance of the angels and the heavenly hosts also bears the same message. Shepherds were marginal people and not held in high repute and yet they are privileged with this private preview of the momentous event taking place in Bethlehem. Throughout the story there is a continuous insistence that this is G
od’s show — the glory is to God and not to humans. We are the recipients of a tremendous peace if we are one of those whom God favours.

And who might these individuals be? Not necessarily saints or exceptional people but ordinary folks who long for a just and peaceful world and do their best to love and serve others. Let us not be mesmerized by the “history” unfolding in the electronic and print media. God is quietly at work in so many other ways.

If we are sensitive and attentive we will see God’s history unfolding before our eyes.