Two thousand years ago a man appeared on the human stage whose titles included Son of God, Lord, Saviour of the World, God from God, Divine, God Incarnate, Liberator and Redeemer.
His name was Caesar Augustus.
Augustus (“the illustrious one”) was worshipped as a deity and promoted a form of world peace, a Pax Romana as it was known, achieved through overwhelming military might, cultural domination, violence and power.
Near the end of his reign, another man appeared, lived his life in relative obscurity, finally submitting himself to an undeserved death as a non-violent revolutionary. Soon, his followers – inspired by his manner of life and death – began to lay claim for him to all the titles of Caesar.
Jesus Christ (“the anointed one”) also believed in world peace; he described it as the Reign of God, achieved not through violence and aggression, but realized through one’s love of God and neighbour, demonstrated through self-sacrifice and unflinching justice.
At this time of year in the northern hemisphere many cultures, including our own, celebrate the turning point away from the darkest days and longest nights; our festivities and new year coincide with the return of the sun, the promise of a new beginning. Christianity too, in our Christmas season, appropriates the imagery of light appearing in darkness, hope being born in a time of desolation. At this time of year we join with all who long for the opportunity of a new way of seeing and a new way of being.
But will we truly embrace the light when it comes? Will we turn away from our old ways and take on the new? Will we continue to secure peace in our lives through force, dominating others, manhandling our daily schedules and responsibilities? Or engage instead a new paradigm, finding peace through establishing justice for ourselves and our society? The choice is ours: to live less by the rule of Caesar and more by the rule of Christ.
Today, as we turn the page on a new year, I resolve…
To seek justice for myself. I will not let myself be hurried or harried by things beyond my control; I will give myself the space and time needed to maintain balance and contentment, to attend to my mental health. I will sleep. I will not eat more or less than my body demands for its just maintenance. If I feast, I shall also fast. I will not consume what I know to be harmful to my body. I will take joy in walking and running, in using my strength, in being alert and making the most of my memory, reason and skill. I will not let my opinion be left unheard, my voice drowned out. I purpose to delight fully in listening, seeing, hearing, tasting and touching.
To seek justice for my neighbour. I will not coerce or manipulate others to achieve my desires; I will make my request, respectfully, and accept the autonomy of the other. I will not raise my hand, nor use an instrument, to strike another. If I must resist to protect myself or my neighbour, I will not purpose to destroy or bring lasting harm. I will not use my authority to intimidate or badger another. I will not speak evil of another, or whisper things I would not be willing to say to them directly. I will not profit from my neighbour’s misfortune, nor yearn for my neighbour’s possessions. I will do for my neighbour what I would wish my neighbour to do for me.
To seek justice for other peoples and cultures. I will respect the vast diversity of God’s creation in humanity, which display the multi-faceted wisdom of God. I will not denigrate or malign, through word or deed, communities that are different than my own. I will not begrudge them their triumphs nor make jest of their failures. I will not contribute to war-making. I will not promote my own people and our aspirations at the expense of harm to others; if I have gained status or wealth from the wrongdoing of my forefathers I will acknowledge it and seek to redress their failures. I will give thanks for my own identity, take pride in it even, and rejoice in the uniqueness of others.
To seek justice for the animals. They are my older siblings in Creation; I will respect them. I will not demean or objectify them, reducing them to mere cuddly playthings or inexpensive protein. The animals given into my care, or whose products I use, will be treated with steady devotion and genuine concern for their well being.
To seek justice for the earth. For the earth and everything in it belongs to God. I will not disrespect or abuse things that belong to the divine. I will leave the earth, the part given to my sustenance and enjoyment, in better condition than when I found it. In lifestyle choices I will not take the easy way, if taking the easy way brings harm to creation; I would rather be inconvenienced than leave an indelible stain in creation. I will live as if this world is my home, the one I have been given to steward; he who is faithful in little will be given much.
This year I resolve to live by the pattern of Christ, to reject the ways of power and violence and pursue instead the pathways of justice.