Not Your Normal Christmas Eve Reflection
This morning I wore a Darth Vader shirt to work.
I always have to rationalize my clothing choices.
I picked it because it’s light-weight-cozy and its a rainy morning.
I picked it because I will go home and change soon anyway.
But… I rationalized it by saying, “I’ll give the Empire its morning… because with the night comes rebellion.”
And then it hit me: Vader is Herod.
Herod was born and raised a Jew. By family link he was royalty.. but a client kingdom of a powerful and distant Empire. When Herod’s life is crumbling around him in desperation he seeks the aid of the Empire… and they name him a King. Borrowing Imperial power, casting off / betraying his original wife (whom he eventually had executed) and children to make a political marriage, Herod returns to secure the rule of Jerusalem and begin the Herodian Dynasty.
Herod then becomes known for his grand building projects, a polarizing personality, and by general historical consensus a despotic and tyrannical rule with the use of Imperial power to create a police state to suppress his own people and their criticisms of his rule.
Herod will respond to the word of a potential child of rebellion with fear and lies – and set his whole kingdom on edge to see what this means… and it would mean the slaughtering of countless children to protect his power even from unsubstantiated rumor. He forced a whole kingdom to bear the same sacrifices he had made in his own life for the propagation of his personal power and the Empire he represented with iconic visage.
Yes. Herod gets the morning… but the night will still be his undoing – he will be his own undoing – because that is how rule by fear works. It necessarily destroys you from within even as it inspires the very hope that will outlast you. The trappings of Empire are grand, and the human toll of their oppression is real and heartbreaking. Let me not downplay either one. But let us also not pretend that inside the hard shell of their exterior power lies anything but a very fragile and pathetic man. Nothing there is worthy of worship. Let us not pretend that any Empire – as impressive as they look and as powerful as they feel – was good news to the common person, the inside stranger, or the outsider.
I will repeat what I said yesterday… all the Goliaths the world has ever produced have failed to bring us any closer to the Community of God.
The way to Empire is never a way to peace and wholeness. So tonight… what we celebrate is not the birth of a king… that language was only ever helpful as the language of the Empire to understand the threat to its power on its terms. But what we celebrate is the birth of a way freed from kings. We don’t play on their terms… if we do they win again. So we let it go. We look to a child to show us a new way. The child who is not-king. The child who is friend. The child who is not, and will not be, co-opted by Imperial terminology… even the language of Messiah (which is ultimately a term of religious empire) to lead us in the foolishness of the gospel. The foolishness of vulnerability, openness, and humility. The way of not-kings that will grant us peace.
And that we, as a people, have not yet figured out how to make this way work in scale does not mean it doesn’t work. It means that it is… not-yet.
So the Empire gets the morning… but the sunset is coming, and it will birth a new day.