The hand you are dealt

It all started with my brother’s status. He posted a picture of the val d’orcia ,Tuscany and suddenly , I was hearing theme songs from Gladiator.

My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.

What a short and very poignant summary of the movie. Maximus a Roman General , a victim of greedy and wanton Commodus. Victorious from battle one minute poised to be the next Emperor, next he is nothing but the scum of the Roman Empire. Despondent, despairing.

Lately, Christmas season has been a series of disappointments. Reflectively, I have not lost as much as Maximus, incomparable even. His was the true meaning of How the Mighty have fallen. Nevertheless, the Christmas season has always been poised as a happy one, glad tidings, great joy and all that. The first thing to go was Santa, there is no ๐ŸŽ…. So naughty or nice, that doesn’t matter, he is not real. As a working adult, there were no holidays. So this ‘happy holidays!’, that was not real either. Lately though it has been a reminder of loved ones not present at the dinner table, their jokes no longer ring in their air. When their favorite carols are played, they are not present to sing along. Sigh, sigh. This year as I reread the Nativity story, it slowly dawned on my already fragile belief system that the Magi were not numbered, they did not visit Baby Jesus in the manger. They followed a star, the people who do that now are called astrologers. Hmm. Then there was neither stable nor inn. The Jews had an upper room like the One the disciples prepared for the Last Supper. That was the ‘inn’. So the upper room of their hosts was full, they slept downstairs with the animals. So many Christmas carols, nativity plays went with this one.

As I watched Maximus, grieve over his murdered wife and son, I wondered how does one go through the motions of life when all has been taken away? Or when you realize that the Empire whose values you upheld has destroyed it in one swift moment and you are completely undone? What happens when all your achievements are weighed and deemed irrelevant because you will not bow to the whims of wickedness? And all your dreams and aspirations are crushed because you will not believe in a lie?

The crucible.

Paul writes to the Galatians and tells me that if he were to please men, he would not be a bondservant of Christ.

In the crucible, you answer the question, whose bondservant am I ? Maximus remained the loyal servant of Marcus Aurelius. He would not bow to Commodus. He chose slavery. The drudgery, the angst over the whims of an unstable lunatic Commodus.

Christmas reminded me of the One, in whom all things consist, the One who is before all things. He chose me, He chose to love me in close proximity. We have beheld His glory, full of grace and truth. He chose pain and death so I wouldn’t die. I found myself singing Easter hymns at Christmas:

when I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died My richest gain, I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.

With the angels, I worship and sing Gloria in Excelis Deo. With the shepherds, I sing what child is this?

Hope floats

Proximo, the most unlikely person sees him for who he is. He picks him out and Maximus remembers who he is. I am Maximus Decimus Meridus, General of the Felix legions. He may not be advancing Rome but by winning the games for Proximo, he will be free. Free to dream again in Rome. He becomes the best gladiator. he leads the best team. He meets Commodus.

My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.

Now we are free (you need to listen to the sound track๐Ÿ‘Œ as played by the 2 Cellos)

Paul also writes to the Galatians to stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made them free and not to be entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

Proximo dangles freedom to men born free. Commodus takes away freedom, chains it and throws away the key. Maximus has one thing left, vengeance. He sets himself to avenge the deaths of his beloved Marcus Aurelius, his wife and his son. Everyone rallies behind him, Cicero, Lucilla, the gladiators, his army, Proximo, the crowd. He gets vengeance. He is free.

When are we truly free? When we have all we ever wanted? When we die?

I agree with Paul. When you meet Jesus, you are free indeed. He is the resurrection and the life, though you die yet you live. All earthly freedoms are valuable, they can be traded against each other and for other trinkets. Not so the freedom in Christ, it is sealed and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit. God Himself is the guarantor of my freedom.Christmas has become a symbol of a never ending freedom.

Like Maximus, Now I am free.

I stand fast in the liberty by which the babe in the manger, the lamb of God has set me free.