Christmas Unwrapped: Prepare the Way

by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens

Wake Up! Get Ready! These are the shocking words of warning that come to us this year. Wake Up! Get Ready! A big change is coming and we need to be prepared. Wake Up! Get Ready.

During Advent, we go through this season of preparation, 4 weeks of waiting and waiting for a single moment that will change our world. Much like Thanksgiving dinner – that takes days of preparation and is gobbled down in mere minutes – we can be frustrated that after so much planning, purchasing, wrapping, baking, partying, worrying… our Christmas celebrations are completed in a flash. In the blink of an eye, gifts are opened, the baby is born, songs are sung and now it’s time to move on.

But John the baptist calls us to “Prepare the way” not just for the birth of a child, but for the birth of a NEW WORLD – a new way of living, a new vision of what is possible, a new way to bring PEACE to the world. Christmas is the birth of a new life (not just for Jesus, but for us.)

In a very practical way, Christmas calls us to a new way of living. No longer do we need to liven a world of violence, fear and terror. We  – through the birth of the Prince of Peace – are called to live differently! And the songs we sing, help to remind us of this. Our Christmas carols remind us to “Wake up and get ready!”

Our Opening hymn today, ”Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is a Christmas carol that first appeared in 1739 with lyrics written by Charles Wesley. Charles Wesley – brother of Methodism’s founder John Wesley – was a hymn-writer and used music to spread the new movement’s theology.

Turn in your hymnals to song 240: This song is filled with the theology of incarnation:

“Veiled in flesh the God head see, Hail the incarnate deity. Pleased in flesh with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel”

But in verse one, Charles Wesley lays it out:

What is the message of the angels? (Glory to baby Jesus, PEACE ON EARTH and MERCY MILD – God and sinners reconciled.)

Peace on Earth… sounds like a dream. But the birth of Jesus (the incarnation of God, God made flesh) calls US to new life, a new way of thinking and dealing with each other, a way fo PEACE.

Let’s look back into the context of our text – the history and culture of the time of the brith of Christ, and our retelling of the Christmas story must include the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus. Caesar ruled the Empire from 31 BCE until his death in 14AD.

 The Empire stretched all the way from Spain to Egypt, France to Northern Africa.

During the rule of Caesar, 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.

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.

But we are called to The Peace of Christ, The Pax Christus if you will, and that is a peace based on justice, a peace based on LOVE.

*  Peace happens when we Iove 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.

John the Baptist calls us to prepare for the prince of Peace to come! And we all need to prepare ourselves to be ready. John echos the prophet Isaiah, saying:

“Prepare the way of the Lord,

   make his paths straight. 

Every valley shall be filled,

   and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall be made straight,

   and the rough ways made smooth; 

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’

Let us prepare for the coming of the new Prince of Peace by smoothing out all the blockages in his path; by removing the barricades we place in the way; by filling the potholes in the road of peace. HARK! WAKE UP! GET READY.

Jesus is coming, the prince of Peace. Amen.