An earthquake may be experienced at great distance from its epicentre, but the epicentre itself is a precise point. The baby lying in a manger is the epicentre of the universe. At the furthest reaches, he is Lord of All Things. Somewhere on the way – in every direction: the earliest prophecies, and later deliberations of the Church – he is Saviour of All Peoples. But not at the epicentre. The epicentre is a precise point, and at this precise point – as the prophecies/responses closest to his birth indicate – the baby is born as king of the Jewish people, who comes into the world to liberate a reconstituted remnant of Israel from the Roman Empire. All else will flow from this. But here is where it begins: confronting Herod’s false claim as king of the Jews, and Augustus’ false claim to be the son of god who bestows peace on earth and goodwill to all who receive him.
Jesus’ birth is not one particular example of a universal but unspecified longing for peace. It is God’s particular affirmation of, and specific response to, that longing. If we are to receive him, he must first triumph over the Augustus desire of our heart to be king of our own life, the Herodian desperate self-deceit that we already are. And he does so through vulnerable love, asking us to be the manger in which he is presented to the world.
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