Check out this quote from Caesar. Let it bounce sparks off your Christian imagination. If you have not studied Roman (and/or early Christian) history, this will likely be new for you.
An ancient inscription unearthed by archaeology:
The providence which has ordered the whole of our life, showing concern and zeal, has ordained the most perfect consummation for human life by giving to it Augustus, by filling him with virtue for doing the work of a benefactor among men, and by sending in him, as it were, a savior for us and those who come after us, to make war to cease, to create order everywhere…; the birthday of the god [Augustus] was the beginning of glad tidings that have come to men through him….
(I found this quote when studying N.T. Wright, btw.) The message of this inscription is Rome’s imperial gospel message about Lord Caesar and how world order is created by (and through) him. He is called “savior.” He is credited with ending all wars in the whole known world for forty years! (Thus, elsewhere, he was known as “Prince of Peace.”) This inscription even calls him a “god!” and characterizes itself as “glad tidings” – another term for “gospel.”
Since Christmas is upon us, I ask you to imagine with me the birth in the imperial palace of a son. This is hypothetical rather than actual history, I know, but it was an on-going hope of the empire whether realized in actual history or not. Visualize the queen pregnant by Lord Caesar coming to full term and all the public anticipation for the coming news of the emperor’s next generation. (You might liken that anticipation to Caligula, the third Roman emperor.) Then, suddenly the bards around Rome call for everyone’s attention and for crowds to gather in the palace square. An announcement and a presentation will be made shortly.
Go there with me, in your mind, and join the throngs of well-wishers. You can see the politicians from the Senate, lords and ladies of nobility, and even military commanders elbowing each other to take important positions down front just below the balcony window of the palatial delivery room. You are just an imperial peasant, maybe even a slave, but you manage to squeeze into the forum near the back of the venue where you see the full scope of the crowds and the cheers of delight when the curtain is pulled back and the proud father raises the newborn child (the future leader of the world-wide empire) over his head almost like Michael Jackson dangling a baby!
Imagine all the titles of nobility, power, hope, and strength thrust upon this child as the crowds celebrate his birth! The hope of the civilized world expressed in joyful noise, dancing, delight, gifts and sacrifices, parades, gladiator games, shopping malls decorated in seasonal colors, feasts, orgies, parties, worship services (of pagan varieties of course), and all the private homes decorated for the party season too. Now, imagine this celebration becoming an annual event. (Actually, this part is historical, and you don’t have to rely strictly on your imagination.) Sound familiar?
Yeah. But here’s the kicker: Augustus Caesar’s birthday was September 23rd, 63 B.C.
So, let me ask you: Did you remember Augustus Caesar’s birthday this year? Did you celebrate it?
I strongly doubt it. I bet you forgot. (Oh? You didn’t even know about it???)
Hmmm…. I promise you that everyone in Bethlehem heard about the world in mass hysteria and celebration over Caesar’s birthday. Even if those good Jews refused to celebrate, the seasonal event did not go unnoticed!
We don’t know the date of Lord Jesus’s birthday. St. Mary stored up a lot of things like that in her heart, but none of the witnesses there that day saw fit to store the date up in our Scriptures. Nevertheless, we have chosen, for good or for ill, to celebrate Jesus’s birth on December 25th. And our annual celebration goes on almost globally, and is celebrated at a level that rival’s that of Caesar (minus the orgies and other pagan aspects) while Caesar goes ignored almost completely!
Of course that observation is a tremendous over-simplification, as any thoughtful reader here surely knows. The holiday has become tremendously commercialized, deeply secularized, and always did collude, at least a little, with paganism. Nevertheless, Lord Jesus is celebrated in a turn-about of fortunes with Caesar, while Caesar – that Prince-of-Peace pretender, that Savior-of-the-world pretender, that Lord-of-lords pretender – goes almost entirely forgotten! That’s a coup d’état, ya’ll! Two thousand years later and Rome is not a world power, Caesar is not emperor, but that born-homeless peasant (from a back water part of Caesar’s reign) has usurped him without firing a shot!
Now, I ask you to go read Luke’s Gospel (chapter 2) and see that first Christmas celebration. See, don’t imagine, see Luke portray for you the inside-out, the upside-down, the back-hand across Caesar’s face inherent in the power of the Gospel St. Paul later told Rome he is “not ashamed of!” (Rom. 1:16). Luke makes a lot of mention of Caesar’s rule in that chapter, but then he bestows imperial titles that were normally reserved for the emperor on the peasant child instead. Luke is subverting empire!
Watch the courts of heaven open like a curtain from God’s palace balcony, only it’s a barnyard where YHWH, The Great God Almighty’s only begotten son is born! The angels announce that a Savior is born! The shepherds, some of the lowliest, smelliest, most forgotten and left-out people in Caesar’s empire, are ushered to the place of honor down at the front! No politicians, nobles, or other elites would bother to come if invited (except Matthew’s sojourning astrologers from the east!). It’s just humble people and the angels of heaven getting it together in a back lot mostly unnoticed by the powers and principalities and other authorities – but the invitation to come and see is made to you if only you will answer the call.
Behold! This is your God! Humble yourself that you might join the celebrations! And let us find the world order his reign brings as we forget Lord Caesar’s birthday yet another year!
What does this have to do with a blog on HOME and HOMELESS???
I think you can figure that out.