Come, Pax Christus

By Rev. Dr. Krista Givens

December 10, 2017

During this busy time, what brings you peace?
So we begin today to look at Jesus, the prince of Peace and we do that by examining the role of Caesar in our Nativity story. “Caesar?” you may ask. “There is no mention of Caesar in our bible, no figurine of Caesar to be placed in our Nativity set, no Christmas Carols about Caesar…” But he is there, lurking in the background of the scene at the manger. He is there as the shepherds witness the glory of God. He is there in the song of the angels.
SO I begin with a question for you: Who is Caesar?
(The Caesar we are talking about here is Caesar Augustus – born Octavius – the first emperor of the Roman Empire. He was adopted by his great-uncle Gaius Julius Caesar… yes, that Julius Caesar! – and after the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, Caesar Augustus was destined for the throne. He ruled the Empire from 31 BCE until his death in 14AD.
During his rule, the Roman Empire developed its infrastructure (its roads and tributaries), and its military power and Caesar used his influence with the people of Rome and his threat of armed violence to control all aspects of daily !ife, including a control over the senate. His rule through financial support, military power, and coercion of the governmental structure became the model for all imperial governments.
ln the middle of all this, Jesus is born. ln the middle of the power struggles, military might used against the poor and the weak of society, in the middle of the show of the power of the Roman Empire, a new kind of ruler is born. A new Lord. A new Savior. A new Prince of Peace.
But to have a “new” anything… there must have been an “o|d”… and Caesar was the standard by which Jesus was judged.
You see, Caesar was known as Lord. The Greek word is kyrios and it was used at the time to mean “lord” as a title for a master of slaves, or a leader of the family or community, but the title “The Lord”  Capital “T” The, Capital “L” Lord) was reserved for the emperor, and its application to anyone beside the emperor was a serious problem.
As explained in the book “The First Christmas” by Marcus Borg and John Domic Crossan, “The Lord” was reserved for the emperor. They explain,
“For example, ‘der Fuhrer’ simply means the leader’ in German, but eventually designated Adolf Hitler as the supreme and only leader.” Any use of the term to describe another, even Christ, would end in a death sentence. The Lord was the emperor and the emperor demanded loyalty. (1)
Caesar was also called the Savior: He saved ‘the Roman Empire from civil-war, from unrest, and through the use of significant military force protected them from foreign invaders and helped gain new ground. The Ancient poet Propertius wrote, “O savior of the world…Augustus…now conquer at sea: the Iand is already yours.” (2)
Caesar was the Savior, but not in the way we understand the phrase today: Caesar was the rescuer or the deliverer, providing protection and prosperity to those loyal to him.
Incidentally, Caesar was also called the “Son of God,” as he was said to be the son of Apollo, the god of light and a human mother, Atia.
Caesar was the Lord. Caesar was the Savior. Caesar was the Son of God. And then comes Jesus.
Jesus was born during the Roman period of “relative peace” called the Pax Romana, which was from 27 BCE – 180 AD, a time in which the empire thrived, gathering land and subjects from North Africa to Britania, from Germania to Turkey: all were a part of the Roman Empire. But Peace in the empire, did not mean an absence of war. The Romans conquer additional territory and wars to suppress insurrections through war and violence. Pax Romana was guaranteed through the use of war. Roman historian Tacitus criticized the Roman government ,saying “To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire: they make a desert and call it peace.”
Caesar’s Peace is a Peace through victory.
The Peace of Christ, The Pax Christus if you will, is a peace based on justice, a peace based on LOVE. Let us reflect on the passage from the book of Luke 1 :46-55:
Here we meet a poor young woman named Mary, singing what has come to be known as the Magnificat:
46 And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
So who is going to benefit from the Rule of Jesus? Based on our text: the hungry, the lowly, and those who worship God. The Pax Christus depends not on victory, but on providing equality, freedom, prosperity, joy and love to those who have been on the outside of Roman society: the poor, the infirmed, the outcast. For them the birth of a new Savior is GOOD NEWS.
Jesus describes his intentions later in the gospel of Luke  (In Chapter 4:18). He said:  “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free.”
It is no coincidence that the first to visit the manger were shepherds representing the marginalized class.
Peace happens when we LOVE one another and share the love of Christ with one another.  Peace happens when we see the value in life – our own lives and the lives of those around us. Peace happens when we see our commonalities first before we focus on our differences. Peace happens when a child can go to school instead of being used a s a pawn in a violent game. Peace happens when we love others enough to forgive them. Peace happens when we fight for the rights and happiness of those who are marginalized by society. Peace happens when we work together, putting aside our differences in order to recognize our common fate. That is the Peace Christ offers us. A Peace Beyond all Understanding.
As we celebrate the coming of the new Prince of Peace, may the love God shows
us be born again in our hearts, that we may share that love with one another, to those in God’s extended family, all around the world. Amen.