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JR. Forasteros - December 23, 2012
The Christmas Peace
From Series: "It's the End of the World As We Know It"
These days, we're obsessed with the End of the World. We should remember that when Jesus came the first time, it really was the End of the World, at least as we knew it. And the beginning of something much, much better. This Advent, we prepare ourselves to welcome Jesus' coming into the world by exploring the book of Revelation!
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Luke establishes the birth of Jesus as a showdown between two kingdoms: God’s and Rome’s. By the time Jesus was born, Augustus had been ruling as the first Roman Emperor for over 20 years. He’d firmly established his trademark imperial policy, the Pax Romana, a Latin phrase that means “Peace of Rome”.
Augustus used the Peace of Rome to entice and threaten those Rome ruled into following Rome, into living Rome’s way. The Pax Romana policy essentially claimed that Rome brought peace to the Earth. The implied message was that if you follow Rome’s way, you get peace: safety and security, protection from your enemies. If you don’t follow Rome’s way, you’re the enemy, and Rome will crush you.
Augustus used the title “Savior” to describe how he brought the Peace of Rome to the world. Check out this inscription from a calendar that dates less than a decade before Jesus’ birth:
Providence… has given us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a savior, both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things… The birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good news for the world.
This is the language Rome used to describe its ruler. The Good News is that Augustus was born. Why is that good news? Because Augustus is the Savior. He protects Rome from her enemies and brings peace to the Earth.
And this Augustus decrees that a census should be taken, so a Galilean peasant and his pregnant fiancée head to Bethlehem, where she gives birth. This is the world into which Jesus is born. Now look at what Luke tells us happens next:
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior— yes, the Messiah, the Lord– has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
The angelic messenger tells the shepherds there’s a new king in town. Tonight is the birthday of a new savior. This is a Gospel message to oppose Caesar’s. But the angel isn’t finished:
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others– the armies of heaven– praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” — Luke 2:8-14 (NLT)
The angelic choir proclaims Pax to the Earth, using all the language Augustus used to describe himself.
That is quite an entrance. God is throwing down the gauntlet. God is directly challenging Caesar’s claim to bring peace to the earth. According to Luke’s Christmas story, Caesar is a false god, making false promises and offering a false peace. And the good news is that the true king has come. The good news is that in the birth of Jesus, God is bringing true peace to the Earth.