Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Preparing For The King (part 5 of 5)

Beyond that, we read that “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased’.” (2:13-14)  While angelic announcements are not infrequent or unknown to members of the nation of Israel, as we continue to bear in mind the recipient of the story, it is worth considering the possibility of this angelic announcement borrowing from the imagery of the Roman imperial cult, with multitudes singing the praises of the Caesar. 

Yes, while we readily understand that Jesus is the source of our peace (“shalom” in all its array of implications, especially that of the end of exile), and that He is most definitely the Prince of Peace (in contrast to the Caesar, who is thought of as the bringer of peace---the pax romana, though this is ironically achieved through military conquest), and that we are able to stand in allegiance to Him and His kingdom through the faithful proclamation of Him as our Lord, and though we indeed, in union with the Christ, have the gracious gift of the peace that passes all understanding (does it pass all understanding because of the totality of the Jesus story, including the paradoxical victory via crucifixion and relatively absurd notion of His Resurrection?), we have to continue to look at things in the context in which they are presented. 

It is perfectly legitimate to find the spiritual message that is to be found in any given passage or statement, but we should not do so at the expense of overlooking the plain, historical implications.  So we here reiterate that this multitude of angels, probably a legion of angels just for good measure (we cannot forget the famed and feared Roman legions), sang out about “peace on earth.”  Theophilus would have, almost undoubtedly understood this in light of the Augustus story and his “pax Romana”, or the “peace of Rome” that had been extended throughout the empire, owing to Rome’s formidable military might (the Roman legions) and its system of law and order and justice. 

Just as we have seen so many times before, throughout these first two chapters of Luke, this declaration of peace on earth was another challenge to the ruler and the ruling power of the day.  Rome had achieved a certain level of peace under its emperors, with the peace of the people under its rule achieved through a nearly endless series of wars.  This new King, however, was ushering in a new kingdom of peace, in which “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3b).  This peace was going to be extended, not through military conquest, but through a work of God by His Spirit, because of His faithfulness to His covenant, to bring people under willful and joyous submission to this King through the instrumentation of faith.  We find this in that statement in regards to “those with whom He is pleased,” recognizing that this is no longer exclusive to Israel, but now includes men (and women) from all nations.  This peace was going to be achieved because a people of a new kingdom of people were going to be brought to believe a true Gospel, with is that of Jesus as the Messiah and Savior, through Whom the world was going to be set right with God, redeemed from the curse of sin, death, and the grave---the true enemies of man. 

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon…and the Holy Spirit was upon Him” (2:25).  By the Holy Spirit, he was gifted to understand that a King was coming.  “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (2:26).  When Jesus’ parents brought Him to the temple, Simeon “took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel’.” (2:28-32).  Simeon sums up the hopes of Israel, of all peoples, and the whole of the creation.  He spoke of peace, of salvation, of light and glory.  He spoke in covenant language of what was to be done by Israel’s Messiah-King.  The stage had been set.  The time had arrived.  The world was prepared and now made to know that its King was present.  A new kingdom had been ushered into the world in the most surprising of ways, and of that kingdom, there will be no end.  Glory to God in the highest indeed!     

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