This weekend Greg continues our When God Shows Up series by examining why Jesus came to earth when he did, and why showing up at this time in history was both edgy and subversive.
As Greg explains that while the Christmas story is beautiful, it’s quite edgy. When Jesus was born, Israel at that time had been under Roman rule for around 60 years and there was a decree that went out to take a census. The phrase “all the world” is important because it shows the national exceptionalism of Rome that they identified Rome as the world. Rome was once a republic — not an empire governed by senators and a leader who had to submit to the checks and balances, until Julius Caesar. Julius Caesar was unpleased with the way the Roman government was set up. To him it took too long to make decisions, so as a popular leader with connections to the army, he decided to consolidate all the power of Rome under him as a singular leader. This started a civil war. A few years later, Caesar was assassinated, and his nephew, Octavius (whom he claimed as his heir) ascended to the throne, and under his rulership Rome became an Empire under one leader who had complete sovereignty. In order to avoid future conflict and usher in a new season of peace, Octavius knew he needed to truly unite Rome.
How did Octavius accomplish this? By creating one religion throughout the Roman Empire: worship of the Emperor as a god. If the Emperor is a god, he cannot be challenged and he should be feared. This is exactly what happened. Octavius’ named changed to Augustus which means, “worthy of worship”. To reinforce this Rome utilized propaganda (Caesar, which was another word for emperor, was on the coins, there were statues placed in every province where people would have to stop and give homage), they utilized fear and violence. Anyone not worshipping the Emperor was crucified, and they changed the way they spoke about Caesar, “king of Kings”, “Lord of Lords”, “Bringer of Peace.” If this sounds familiar, it should — these are often things we say about Jesus at Christmas time, which is why Jesus showing up, God showing up at this time in history, is both edgy and subversive: Jesus came to set up a new kingdom, a new way of living that challenged the current government.
The prophesies about Jesus pointed to this:
For every trampling boot of battle and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be upon His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from that time and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of Hosts will accomplish this.
The words surrounding Jesus’ birth were political and problematic for the Roman government. To say anyone other than Caesar is god and to give allegiance to any other kingdom but Rome was considered treason and the punishment was execution. This is why Jesus was crucified: for proclaiming and leading this alternative Kingdom to Rome.
The truth is, every kingdom and government will fail. Rome fell after 500 years and it was supposed to be the never-ending, always enduring kingdom. There is only one kingdom that never ends and always endures and that is the Kingdom of God, because God never ends, his love always endures and his way of being, one that comes under with love and patiences, not over with violence and coercion, is truly the way everlasting. This is what we celebrate at Christmas, our humble King, our loving God, and our invitation to live fully into this Kingdom way here on earth.
This brings up an important question we have to ask ourselves: Does Jesus’ birth inspire you to live differently as a Kingdom person? Does the love of God as displayed in him becoming human to live among us and teach us inspire you to love others? Are you done with the ways of empire that leave us on a rollercoaster of fear, self-seeking, other-hating and even death? If so, Greg invited those in the room who want to know Jesus better to come up for prayer and to say “yes” to Jesus.
God showed up because the world needed to know it’s true leader and his way sets the world back to rights. God showed up because shalom was broken and we needed our Prince of Peace. God showed up because his people rejected him as their King and he desired for them to know him better, in the flesh, right among them, so he became a little baby and that baby took on one of the greatest, most violent empires known to man. His way, his kingdom, and his love are everlasting and that is good, good, Christmas news.
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