It’s an interesting phrase that the angels proclaim to the shepherds out in the field. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, among those with whom he is well pleased.” I’m sure the phrase caused a few stares and wondering glances among the shepherds that evening. What in the world could this mean? The angels had already proclaimed that a baby had been born in Bethlehem that would be the Savior of the World. That in itself was strange enough, but now the heavenly chorus appears to proclaim Peace on earth. Peace was coming. Peace was now here. And it was in the form of a baby.
That in itself is strange, but especially for shepherds in Israel. Israel, like the rest of the known world, is under Roman Rule. Emperor Augustus is currently on the throne and he has ushered in the Golden Age of Rome and the Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome. In 29 BCE Augustus closed the doors to the temple Janus for the first time in nearly 400 years. The temple doors always stayed open during times of war and only closed during times of peace. The closing of the doors signified that peace had come to Rome and in turn, the world. In 13 BCE an altar was erected in the heart of Rome known as the ara pacis, the altar of peace and it was dedicated to Augustus and the peace he brought to the world. Augustus was heralded by some as the “Savior of the World” and the day of his birth became for many the start of the new year and a day of good news. Augustus was in charge and Rome’s bounty had been spread to the entire known world. The Pax Romana was known by all and Augustus was to be thanked and praised by all because of it.
Which makes the counterclaim that Luke is making even more amazing. Luke tells his readers, many of whom who were living in territories and regions still celebrating Augustus as the Savior of the World, that the Savior of the world was born not in Rome, but in Bethlehem. And the one who was going to bring peace was not the emperor of Rome, but a tiny infant child born in a stable. And that the most important birth in history was not celebrated with parades and trumpet blasts and lines of dignitaries, but by lowly shepherds. But this was the one who was going to bring real peace to earth. This was the one who was going to allow the Lion and Lamb to lie down together. This was the one who would inspire men everywhere to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning forks. This was the one who would usher in a new age in which God’s Kingdom would reign fully and completely and all the world would be made right.
So often we have the tendency to look for peace from the powers and principalities. We expect the government to ensure our peace. We hope for a large military to ensure our peace. We look to Wall Street to grow our retirement funds so that we will have peace. We look forward to the next election believing the right person in power will create peace. When all along Luke reminds us that Peace doesn’t come from Augustus being on the throne, but because Jesus was born. And Peace doesn’t come because of the Pax Romana, but because of the Pax Christi, the Peace of Christ. And if we are to celebrate anything it is not some human authority or institution or principality, but the tiny child who ultimately triumphed over the principalities and powers by dying on a cross. As the Angels proclaimed, peace has come to earth in the form of a tiny child name Jesus, which means God Saves.
So, as we all sit around the next few days retelling the Christmas story may we proclaim with the angels, Glory to God in the highest and Peace on earth. Jesus has brought hope to the world.