Well, all right, let’s talk about the baby Jesus. Why was he born in Bethlehem? Luke tells us: because the then global superpower wanted to raise taxes, so told everyone to sign up and pay up. That’s how the Middle East worked then, and, with minor adjustments, that’s how it works today. This was Caesar’s world, and unless you were fool enough to try to buck the system you shrugged your shoulders and did what you were told.
Yes, says Luke; but watch what happens next. The child who is born is the true king from the house of David. And all the ancient prophecies spoke of the coming royal child from David’s line as the king, not of one small country far away, certainly not of a heavenly kingdom removed from this earth, but of the earth itself, the world claimed by Caesar and taxed by Caesar, the world where the rich get rich at the expense of the poor while telling them they are giving them freedom, justice and peace. The world of empires from that day to this.
Luke’s story digs underneath this typical story of everyday empire and undermines it with the explosive news of a different empire, a different emperor, a different kind of emperor. Jesus isn’t simply another politician on whom everyone can pin their hopes and who will then let them down. His way of establishing God’s justice and peace on the earth was different to Caesar’s, different to the usual power games and money games, different in source, different in method, different in effect. We are today hungry for exactly that difference, and Christmas night is the time to ponder it.
• N.T. Wright
“The Government Shall Be Upon His Shoulders”