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Christmas Eve

We apologize that there is no video of this sermon.

Even those who don’t come to church much are probably familiar with the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke chapter 2. Some of us have heard it so much and are so familiar with it that we can practically recite some portions.

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus…”

“…and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and…”

“And an angel of the Lord shone around them…”

“In those fields there were shepherds keeping…

You can finish some of those lines from memory.

And yet, as much as we have read this story, we might hardly know what it is really about. The birth of Jesus, yes, but there is more going on in the way Luke wrote it for us.

A large part of how Luke gives us the birth of Jesus Christ is a showdown: a showdown between the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, and Jesus. A showdown between the most powerful man of that time, and an infant.

Between someone with a name and someone who isn’t even named. Between someone who could grab anything he wanted and put to death anyone who stood in his way, and a baby who can’t feed himself.

And yet, tonight, we aren’t worshipping Caesar. And no one thinks about him too much anymore. It is that infant who we worship. And not just respect or admire or like – though that’s as far as it goes for some – but we worship.

No one asks, “What Would Caesar Do?” There are no groups called “Cowboys For Caesar” or “Bikers for Caesar.” There are no buildings or organizations for Caesar Augustus. There aren’t governments that try to ban the name of Caesar. But there are for Jesus.

Actually, Caesar is just a pawn that God uses in his plan to enter this world for us.

Really, the story of Christ’s birth in Luke 2 starts with taxes and government. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to mess up everyone’s Christmas Eve. But its taxes and a massive political figure that get Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. Did you ever think about that? Centuries before, the prophet Micah had said that one who would rule over Israel would come from Bethlehem. Yet, Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth, not Bethlehem. But Caesar Augustus issued a decree that all should be registered, which was for the sake of making sure everyone paid their taxes and that Rome got theirs. That’s what brought the holy fam to Bethlehem.

Caesar thought he was exercising his power, but God was just using the Roman emperor’s thirst for power and money to have Christ born exactly where the Father wanted him to be born. We think the rulers of this world are the history makers, and they certainly wield their influence. But behind them, God is moving and working his purposes. Caesar is serving God’s purposes, unbeknownst to him. All worldly powers serve the purposes of God, often without knowing it.[1]

Let me tell you about Caesar Augustus. He was the adopted son of Julius Caesar. He became ruler over Rome after a bloody war where he annihilated all his rivals. He made the Roman republic into an empire.

Even two thousand years ago, powerful political figures knew the advantage of a good branding campaign. Caesar Augustus advertised that he had brought peace and justice to the world. He declared his father Julius to be a god. And if your father is a god that makes his son what? A ‘son of god.’

People used two particular phrases for Augustus: savior and lord. Augustus declared himself the savior of the world. He propagated that he had brought in a new era of peace into the world, and everyone should be so glad. Signs and statues were placed in cities declaring “Caesar is Lord.” There was even such a thing back then as Caesar worship as people worshipped him as a god.

Caesar never imagined anyone else could be lord but him. No one would ever challenge his authority.

This is why the angel’s message to the shepherds “Today a Savior has been born to you who is Christ, the Lord” is such a powerful proclamation. When God comes in a small infant it is the beginning of a confrontation between the kingdom of God – in all its apparent weakness, insignificance and vulnerability – and the kingdom of this world.

Caesar Augustus had never heard of Jesus. Within a matter of decades the Roman empire had not only heard of Jesus; they were trying to destroy his followers and this movement that arose from him.[2]

Lying in that manger, was the true king of the world, the true Savior and Lord. Three times the manger is mentioned. Not the nice, neat, well-crafted thing we see on cards and ornaments. Mangers were feeding troughs for animals. Mary and Joseph might very well have had to share an area with animals. It was common for dwellings to be upstairs, and the area for animals to be in a room which we would consider a basement. Think more like a cave. Here God is born as an infant. “Not a soul notices and knows what God is doing in that stable.”[3]

You know, Jesus isn’t even named in this passage. He is only referred to as a child. Just a child lying in a manger. Caesar Augustus name is there, but not Jesus. Yet, all the power wasn’t in the seat of the government. It was lying in a manger. God doesn’t need political, social, financial or even religious power to accomplish his purposes.

What a contrast between Caesar and the one lying, unknown, in a manger.

Jesus never wrote a book. He never went to college. He didn’t marry and have kids, nor did he have a house. He didn’t have a high paying job. He never had any of the things which we associate with greatness.

From his late teen years until he was about 30 he was a carpenter. He had a ministry of preaching, teaching, healing and helping the least of these, but it lasted only three years. He was betrayed and arrested. His friends rejected him. He was tried and put to death alongside two thieves. It was only because of the generosity of someone who knew him that there was any place to bury him.

This all happened over 2,000 years ago, and yet today he is still known, held up as one of the great figures of history, and more importantly, he is worshipped.

Of all the armies that have every marched, all the navies that have ever set sail, all the rulers that have ever ruled, all the kings that that have ever reigned, no one has affected the life of people on this earth like Jesus Christ.[4]

“He deliberately placed himself on a collision course with Rome, where he would have been crushed like a gnat. And he was crushed.”[5]

And yet, Jesus’ vision of life continues to haunt and challenge everyone. Attracting some. Threatening others.

His is a different kingdom than Caesar’s. Caesar was about power. Jesus’ is about humility.

Caesar demanded to be served. Jesus came to serve.

Caesar sought revenge. Jesus is about peace.

Caesar demanded to be loved. Jesus called people to love God.

Caesar ruined others to preserve his own brief life. Jesus gave up his very own life.

Caesar’s kingdom was in this world. Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world.

Caesar is dead. Jesus is living.

Caesar was in a palace. Jesus was in a manger.

Caesar was a lord. Jesus is thee Lord.

Really, Luke is asking “Who is Lord? Caesar or Jesus?” Who is your Lord? Who calls the shots for your life? What authority do you bow down to because everyone bows down to something, even if it’s ourselves.

When Christ is born in us he becomes the center. He becomes Lord of our lives. Tonight we will sing “Jesus, Lord at thy birth.”

God has come into this world in the Lord Jesus Christ. Taking Jesus home has been the theme of the messages in Advent and Christmas. We not only want to celebrate, honor and worship Jesus here but we want to take him home. We want this child to make a difference in our lives. We want him to be Lord in our homes, at our work, in our school, and everywhere we go. That happens when he enters our lives.

We take him home. We make him ours.

Every soul has a door, and it is to this door that Christ comes and knocks. His desire is to enter your soul, my soul, and live in us.[6] His desire is always to make his home with us. Jesus doesn’t force himself upon us. He merely asks us to open our hearts and receive him.

To you is born this day…a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.A

[1] Fred Craddock, Luke commentary [2] Tom Wright, Luke For Everyone, pp.22-23 [3] Martin Luther, Day by Day, p. 31, from Sermon for Christmas, 1522 [4] Influenced from Fred Bock’s “One Solitary Life.” [5] John Ortberg, Who Is This Man?, p.12 [6] From Ambrose

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