What are We Singing: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
- Saturday, December 20, 2008
It was a time of peace.
If you were a Roman.
It was a time known as Pax Romana, translated the peace of Rome. But “peace” only meant that the majority of Rome’s military expansion by force was nearly at a standstill. This season of history expanded from 27 BC to 180 AD.
As the last century BC was coming to an end, Judea was ruled by a madman known as Herod the Great who had obtained his title of tetrarch and eventually of basileus (the highest possible title). Herod’s own high position had come at a huge price and he intended to hold on to it, at any cost, even the lives of his sons if it meant they would take it from him.
Most Jews in the era hated Herod. Those who were Orthodox hated him because of his mixed breeding (Idumean and Arabian). The Sadducees hated him because he had terminated the rule of the old royal house, thus reducing their influence within the Sanhedrin. The Pharisees thought little of him because he held no regard for the Law. The common man was nearly broken by his taxation and his cruel methods for obtaining that money. Not withstanding the belief he’d stolen from the tombs of David and Solomon.
No, it was not a time of peace.
Peace Come to Earth
It was about this time some wise men realized that 76 generations had passed since creation. According to prophecy, the 77th would bring Messiah and Messiah would bring deliverance to Israel. Then, according to Matthew’s gospel, there was a star spotted in the eastern sky. Magi came to Jerusalem and asked the very person who wasn’t about to give up his kingdom, if he knew anything about the one who’d been born king of the Jews. Herod said he hadn’t heard such news, but “be sure to find him and get back with me. I’d like to worship him, too.” (My paraphrase)
The Magi’s avoidance of such news telling led to the slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem some time later. Herod was nothing if not thorough in his madness.
But a child who would bring peace to earth survived the king’s insanity. Specifically, according to the hosts of angels who announced his arrival to a group of shepherds minding their own business and their sheep outside the city limits of Bethlehem, peace had come to earth and to men on whom God’s favor rests by his birth.
Born in the town of David, the Davidic Messiah (Isaiah 9:6) was the King of kings and the Prince of peace. His name was Y’shua. He is most commonly known by the Greek form of his name, Jesus. His parents were poor Jews who lived under the rule and tyranny of Rome and whose steps into Egypt and then to Nazareth were determined by who ruled in Jerusalem and when.
But years later, as the baby turned carpenter turned rabbi would explain to those who followed him, his peace was not the world’s peace. (John 14:27) His peace came from within.
1800 Years Later; Can There Be Peace?
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a name you should know well. His writings included those famous lines, By the shores of Gitche Gumee and Listen, my children, and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere. But Longfellow is also responsible for penning the words which led to one of our most beloved and highly recorded Christmas carols.
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