‘In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered’ Luke 2:1
This is how Luke introduces the birth story of Jesus. As a result of this decree Mary and Joseph move from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the birth place of the shepherd boy King, David. Thus, the Messiah is born in the proper place, in a borrowed room in the midst of forced migration. In so doing the Roman Empire inadvertently brings about the fulfilment of a prophesy which will ultimately bring about its own subversion. Empire declares in such decrees its power to control and exploit at will. We counter them in these advent reflections with the contra-decrees of God’s upside down order, that send Jesus up against Empire, and his followers with him bringing Good News of Jesus and the change he brings.
Let us seek a moment
of rejoicing amongst the many voices.
And sing out to the world:
God is with us!
In straw and thorn
Blood and water
In change and transformation
To lift up the lowly
Set free the oppressed
Renew the earth
Bind the broken
Bring sight to the blind
And declare the day of God’s favour
So that Empire might fall
Kings might worship
And those who know poverty
Live in hope and justice.
Let us make room
for the broken reed to speak,
the rock to cry out,
the unspoken text to find its counter voice:
The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours! Luke 2: 10 – 14
Empires and Emperors imagine that the centre of power is at their capital cities, housed in their institutions and constrained by their will. Eternal Rome’s splendour is overshadowed today by the shepherds’ fields in Palestine at night. Caesar’s throne is cast aside by a manger and a stable. Augustus and Quirinius may dream of the glory of Rome, but Magi and shepherd come face to face with the full breadth of God’s redeeming grace. And in this beginning is all that is to come: The counter creation of hope in the face of power. The counter-naming of love in the face of power. The counter-living of life in the face of power. And the cry of this child is our summons to mission in the context of empire: God’s mission which seeks to protect and heal the victims of sexual violence, stands with those whose land and dignity is denied them, works for a just economy that does not harm the earth and builds communities of grace and resistance to counter Empire with hope and peace. What good news there is to share on this Day.
We light all the candles
For the light of the world has come
In grace and truth, he comes amongst us
Unwelcome in his challenge
Yet vital in the hope he brings
So, we declare in light and life
Jesus is Lord,
We testify to his new world
Born amongst us anew and again.
All the candles are lit
[A song may be sung here or a moment of quiet kept]
Decree of Love
Grow louder in light
That we may shine with
Hope and love and healing.