Bethlehem not Annapolis
During this Christmas season as we reflect on the message of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace…” we can only understand it against the peace which Caesar gives. God’s formula for peace is juxtaposed with Pax Romana. For Caesar, peace is imposed by the might of empire. This is evident when occupied people are forced to give homage to Caesar, when they are coerced to pay taxes to Rome, and when they accept Rome’s sovereignty and unquestioned domination. It is against this kind of peace that the radical message of Christmas comes to us, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace…” Peace comes when the sovereignty of God is acknowledged rather than Caesar’s. For people living under occupation or oppression, Caesar has become a symbol of the evil that crushes and enslaves.
For many of us, the message of the angels stands for God’s kingdom. In the kingdom of God, glory and sovereignty belong to God and not to Caesar. God’s peace is not achieved by crushing and eliminating others but by embracing them. Caesar’s empire is built on violence and military might, God’s empire is built on justice and mercy. Caesar’s peace enslaves and humiliates, God’s peace liberates and restores dignity to the oppressed. Caesar builds walls to separate people, God tears down the walls of separation to join, unify, and reconcile them one with the other. Caesar’s peace is exclusive for a chosen few, God’s peace is inclusive for all regardless of their race or ethnicity.
Ultimately, peace will come not from the Caesars and all those who trust in their military might and in the arrogance of their power but from the meek that put their trust in God. It is the meek who will inherit the earth. Peace will come from the labor, toil, and hard work of all those who do not glory in their riches or in their power but glory in their love and service of God and in their love and acceptance of others. God’s message of peace still rings true, not from Annapolis that represents empire, but from the small town of Bethlehem, Palestine that still suffers under occupation. The peace that the Caesars of the world give is largely false and deceptive, and it cannot last. Only the peace that God gives, the peace that is based on justice and truth will survive and prosper.
In the midst of these uncertain times, Sabeel wishes all its friends a joyful Christmas. May the New Year bring us closer to the peace we hope for; and let us continue the struggle together for the achievement of God’s peace for all the people of Palestine-Israel.
Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center