Christmas Eve Homily 2016
Christ and Caesar: The True King is Born!
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
• Luke 2:1-20
We’ve almost come to the end of 2016, and we all know that this has been one of the craziest years we can ever remember as Americans, especially with regard to the political realm and our elections. One thing we often don’t appreciate when we read Scripture is that the story of Jesus is in many ways a political story that was written in a particular political context. The Gospel is not just a story of personal salvation; it is the story about how God has come to set up his Kingdom in this world and to tear down this world’s political systems that rely upon power and violence to achieve their ends. There may be no greater example than the Christmas story.
Notice how this story begins. It speaks about the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar. It mentions a census, and governors, and how people obeyed a law that was sent out from Rome. And then, throughout the remainder of the passage, Luke uses language that was used in the Roman empire about Caesar to describe Jesus’ birth.
About 100 years before Luke wrote these words, Augustus Caesar had brought a century of civil war to an end and had brought about an age of peace. When people praised the emperor, they spoke of him as the one who had brought “peace on earth and favor to the people.” Augustus was also hailed as the “Savior of the world.” His birth was described on public inscriptions as “Good News” (or Gospel) for all the earth. Augustus was revered as Lord of all.
When Luke tells about Jesus’ birth, he uses these same words and phrases. He says:
- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people.
- To you is born this day a Savior.
- This Savior is the Messiah (the King), and the Lord
- The angels announced peace on earth, goodwill toward all people
Luke’s story is a direct Christian claim against the claims of the Roman empire. The Romans hailed Caesar as the one who brought good news to the world. He was the world’s savior, king, and lord. He brought peace and goodwill to all the earth.
However, Luke is saying that on that first Christmas Eve, the real good news, God’s good news was pronounced to the world from heaven. On Christmas Eve the true Savior, the true King, the true Lord was born. And this baby would be the One to save us all from sin, the true enemy of our lives, and bring true, lasting peace to the world.
People built an altar to Caesar Augustus. But a heavenly chorus of angels proclaimed the good news of Christ’s birth. And so it has gone throughout history and so it continues today.
Presidents and Prime Ministers, rulers and governments of all kinds arise and rule over their people. One Bible scholar called our world: “a world where the rich get rich at the expense of the poor while telling them they are giving them freedom, justice and peace.” Now let’s not be completely negative. We have many good and just political leaders who believe in public service and the common good do their best to bring lasting peace and justice to our lives in this world.
Nevertheless, injustice persists. Poverty persists. Inequality persists. People still use power and violence to impose their will on others. Folks seem to care more about their rights than their responsibilities. We get caught up in trying to get ahead and we forget about those who can’t keep up. Despite centuries of progress, we still struggle with our human tendencies toward selfishness, suspicion, covering up our own sins and weaknesses, blaming others, playing the victim, and chasing a thousand so-called solutions that only end up enslaving us.
The goal of God sending his Son at Christmas is summarized in the words of the Lord’s Prayer: “May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” There is no Caesar, no President, no Prime Minister, no government, no leader that will be able to guarantee that ultimate goal. Though we must support our earthly leaders and institutions and do our best to make them better, we must realize that it is only through the good news of heaven’s King that ultimate justice and peace will fill this world.
However, there is something else in this text that grows out of observing its other characters: simple, common people who got caught up in the events of that first Christmas.
You see, Jesus came to create a people made up of such ordinary people: folks like Mary and Joseph and the shepherds who will respond to heaven’s good news and proclaim and live out the peace and goodwill that God brings. That means people like you and me. We may not be the powerful people in this world, but every day we have the opportunity to live in the grace and love of Christ. Every day we can plant seeds of righteousness and peace that God will use to repair this broken world and move us ever closer to the day when the new creation will appear.
May God bless us this Christmas season and make us his servants in this world to announce and live out the good news of great joy for all people that Christ’s birth brings:
To us is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Glory to God in the highest! May God’s peace and goodwill come to all people. May God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven — may it be done in and through our lives as well — through the Holy Child born to make all things new.