While preparing our Christmas lunch on Christmas Eve, I listened to Fr Robert Barron’s reflection on Luke’s Nativity. He begins by describing Virgil’s Aeneid and how the story of Aeneas influenced the Emperors of Rome, particularly the Emperor of Jesus’ time Augustus. Fr Barron then goes on to explore how Luke uses the Power of Rome, embodied in Augustus to emphasise how God, in the Incarnation does something very different to the power of the World. Luke mentions the power brokers of Rome, Augustus and his governor of Syria. Rome has power by taking it violently.
Luke then tells the story of the nativity, the story of God coming to Earth. Here is the arrival of the Messiah, this promised king, who has come to rule. Where is this King born? In a stable, in Bethlehem, a ‘dusty, outpost of the Empire’ as Fr Barron describes it. The ‘army of angels’ proclaim peace, when they come to announce the birth, not to the high and mighty or the glitterati but to shepherds, those looking after the animals.
I noticed this same theme while watching LOTR film “The Two Towers” recently. Saruman’s voice is used as commentary to views of Isengard’s Uruk-hai army and the Nazgul leading thousands of Orcs out of Mordor. He says “The world is changing. Who now has the strength to stand against the armies of Isengard and Mordor? To stand against the might of Sauron and Saruman and the union of the two towers?” Of course, we, the viewers, know what Saruman doesn’t, that a very small Hobbit, slowly making his way towards Mount Doom, can stand against the might of both armies. Frodo and his equally small companion, Sam are unseen by those who assume that might will win the day.
In the Nativity we see God turning all the assumptions of the World on its head. The manner of Christ’s birth is important for it shows that in God’s Kingdom power play has no part. Our King is the one who empties himself, who takes on the role of a servant and lives in humility. Fr Barron describes this as the ‘subversive’ aspect of Luke’s telling of the Christmas story.