For many Americans, Christmas 2015 arrives against a backdrop of growing despair. Morally-preening elites in government, speaking now for both parties, as well as an entire pantheon of pop culture gods seem bent on destroying anything they cannot control. The rights we once boldly declared have become mere suggestions, fading as they echo out of memory. The republic of citizen legislators has willingly given way to the dictates of a near all-powerful executive. “Silent Night” is now the background music for the celebration of abortions.
But as our self-appointed betters rob us of our freedom, don’t let them rob you of your hope. Consider this oft-neglected aspect of the birth of Christ:
On the day that Jesus was born, an Idumaean named Herod claimed the title King of the Jews. In reality, he was neither a Jew, since he was born an Edomite, nor a king, since all real power was vested in the throne of the first true emperor of Rome, Gaius Octavius.
Octavius was known to his people as Caesar Augustus – literally Dictator God. He was called Caesar because he was the adopted son of his uncle, the man appointed Dictator of Rome, Julius Caesar; he was called Augustus because he was seen as worthy of the praise of a god. In fact, the title Augustus had never been granted to a mortal man before Octavius. After granting him the title, Rome retroactively extended it backward to his adopted father as a posthumous honor, and so the Dictator Octavius was both god and the son of god, the King and the King of kings – ruling above the petty kings like the King of the Jews, Herod. He was also called, according to some inscriptions, the Prince of Peace, because his reign brought Peace on Earth – the Pax Romana – iron-fisted Roman Peace.
Like all men playing god, Octavius and Herod thought money was the source of all divine power, and so they politicked together to extract it from the people through taxation – for the good of the people, of course. After all, man’s peace doesn’t come cheap. It takes soldiers. Lots of soldiers. Enough soldiers to keep the men who play god safe from the people they force their protection on. And those soldiers need easy avenues to travel the empire enforcing the government’s protection, and extracting the government’s taxes. It takes roads. Great roads. Roman roads. Roads that connected even the most distant outposts of the empire, even far off Israel.
But as these vain men played god, promising peace and justice in exchange for wealth and power, scheming against the people for their own aggrandizement, they revealed themselves to be mere instruments of the true God whose titles they claimed for themselves. For without their taxing scheme, they wouldn’t have needed to dictate a census. (The Romans at least had the honesty to title those who could dictate law Dictators. Americans call them Presidents and deny that their dictates are laws at all, only regulations. Then they fine or imprison anyone who violates them…)
If the men playing god hadn’t dictated the census, a modest man of the house of David named Joseph wouldn’t have needed to take his pregnant wife on a difficult trip to Bethlehem to be registered. If Joseph hadn’t taken his wife to Bethlehem, the prophet Micah’s words would not have been fulfilled:
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days…
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.
And so, while the so-called King of the Jews and the so-called King of Kings and Prince of Peace and Son of God exploited the known world and collected their titles and tithes, the true King of the Jews, the King of all Kings, the real Prince of Peace, both God and the Son of God lay swaddled in a feeding trough, unwelcome indoors even by his own extended family – perhaps because his mother was seen as a whore by her morally self-preening in-laws for being pregnant before she was officially married – exactly where God’s prophet said he would be.
The vain men playing god didn’t even know that the God of the Universe had just tented himself in human flesh. They couldn’t know. They would not have condescended to know what he had condescended to do. Instead, the announcement was made to the unwashed shepherds out in fly-over country. The bitter-clingers. Those unfit for self-government. Those better served by a benevolent dictator. The true God humiliated the false gods by using them to fulfill his prophesy, and he didn’t even feel obliged to let them know. Later, he would use the roads they built to carry their stolen wealth to spread his Gospel to the ends of the empire.
So as you celebrate Christmas 2015, do not fear the schemes of the vain men who play god. They do have power, after a fashion, but in the end, even they are but servants – if unwilling ones – of the God of the humble shepherds.
Our fate is in his hands, after all, not theirs.