In a world gone mad with violence, came a little child, and 2,000 years later the message he brought still touches us.
I am reading a book, Rubicon by Tim Holland. It describes the corruption and collapse of the Republic of Rome, beginning about 100 BC down to the time of the birth of Christ.
It is a stunning history, and what strikes me in this Advent season is the sheer barbaric brutality of this world in which was born the Prince of Peace, the one who calls us to kindness, forgiveness, gentleness and the stillness of the Kingdom of God within.
The Romans were armed merchants, plundering their provinces for wealth and inconceivable luxuries. The silver and tin mines of Spain covered one hundred miles of underground tunnels, worked by more than 400,000 slaves, and the noxious fumes of smelting chemicals turned the skies dark and were so severe they burned the skin off your hands.
The Republic lived on slaves and war. In Gaul, one vat of wine could buy a slave, who would then be resold at huge profits in the Roman capital. Armed gangs and thugs rioted in the streets of Rome, hurling feces at senators and terrorizing citizens.
Armies fought bloodthirsty wars on the deserts of Asia. In one battle 250,000 men were killed and 100,000 more captured into slavery. But nothing illustrates the viciousness of these times to me so much as the act of King Mithridates who, having defeated one Roman general, killed him by pouring molten gold down his throat. In one entertainment in the circus, 20 elephants were killed, trumpeting in pain, as the stunned crowd watched.
And into the midst of this a child is born in a manger in a stable in an unknown backwater town. We’re told that angels heralded his birth, proclaiming the news to shepherds in their fields and Wise Men, traveling from the East, knelt to admire the babe and left gifts of incense, myrrh and gold.
On Christmas Day at midnight (it is said) the animals are able to speak. And what they sing, like the angels above, is, “Glory! Glory to God! Peace on Earth. Goodwill. Joy! Love!”
What they bleat or bark or moo is that love is stronger than hate and that forgiving heals. What the angels cry is Fear Not! Everything will be all right. Have faith and trust! We’re taking care of you!
In a world gone mad with violence, fear, bloodlust, war, where jostling for position, wealth, status, sex, fame was the only way to win respect, came a little child, and 2,000 years later the message he brought still touches us, for it is more wondrous and innocent than all the miracles he ever wrought.