Out of the four writers of the Gospel, Luke has the most to say about the Christmas story. This provides a challenge for a preacher like me who is attempting to focus in on the key lesson for there is so much ground to cover. However, the very paragraph that speaks about the birth of Jesus gives us the clues on what to be looking for:
1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 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. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 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. (Luke 2:1-7 NRSV)
Did you see the clues as to what Luke considers essential to the Christmas story? They are right there in the first lines: ‘decree, Emperor, Augustus, all the world, registration, governor’. Directly preceding the telling of Jesus’ birth are three quick verses that remind us of who, supposedly, is in charge. That Jesus is born in Bethlehem is a matter of prophecy and fulfilment yes, but it is also a matter of obedience to the ruler of the day, Augustus Caesar. And obedience is demanded, not just of Joseph and Mary but in fact “all the world” such was the power and influence of Rome. The mention, too, of Quirinius is a reminder that even the more local rulers take their orders from Rome, and that “all went to their own towns to be registered” is a reminder that your own town is not really yours, because it too, belongs to Rome. With all these reminders of the power and control of Rome, Luke goes on to speak about what Rome had no power over: a pregnancy, a time to deliver, and the coming into the world of Jesus. And so begins a revolution, the beginning of a Kingdom that is vastly different from the empire this tiny King is born into.
Here are some of the insights we gain from the Christmas story in Luke about the rumblings of revolution and coming Kingdom (you may like to have a Bible handy):
- The birth of the Son of God is promised to a young woman of no stature, rank, or power in 1:26-38. Rome cared not for Mary apart from telling her where she must go to register. God had different plans for this humble girl.
- The promise is made that Mary’s Son will have a throne and will reign forever in Luke 1:30-33. The language here perhaps points us to Daniel 7 where it is prophesied that four terrible empires represented by beasts are replaced by the coming ‘Son of Man’ who will reign forever in a more humane and God honouring way. It should not escape our notice that in the Gospel of Luke Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man” twenty times thereby identifying Himself as that One who replaces the empires of the world with the Kingdom of God.
- Mary speaks of the humble being lifted and the powerful being brought low by God in her song of praise in 1:46-55. Her song speaks of revolution and a wonderfully different kind of Kingdom.
- Zechariah speaks of Israel’s salvation from her enemies in 1:67-79. Again we can think of the vision from Daniel 7 and the changes that are about to come.
- The Son of God is born in humble circumstances in 2:1-7. What a contrast to the mention of Augustus who was hardly an example of humility. Note too, that while his empire is represented in Daniel 7 by a terrifying beast, Jesus on the other hand is laid in a feeding trough for beasts.
- Rulers are invited to see this new King, but these rulers are the lowest of all rulers. God Himself sends the invite, bypassing Augustus, bypassing his puppet king Herod and targeting shepherds. Could it be made any more plain that things are different in this coming Kingdom?
So there you have it, Luke’s account of the Christmas story turns our gaze onto the coming of the Kingdom of God in this baby named Jesus. So what does this have to do with us today?
First, is He your King? His rule is eternal, so He reigns now and the working out of history is in His hands. Do you honour Him as King?
Second, are you living in His Kingdom? When we first came to Canada in 1978 you could tell very easily by the way I talked, the way I dressed, and so on that I was British. Now, apart from occasionally doing some British things, such as having a wee bit of Marmite with my toast, very few people would be able to detect that I am anything but Canadian. I have been thoroughly Canadianized by being steeped in Canadian life. Can people tell where you have made your home? Perhaps they might say by your life, your speech, your customs, your all, that you belong to one of those beastly empires that are spoken of in Daniel 7. I pray that it will be said of you and of me, that we obviously belong to a different kind of Kingdom and we serve a different kind of King.