When we read Luke 2’s account of the Messiah’s birth, we often skim through the first few verses until we come to the passage about our Savior bringing peace on earth to all people. But, the opening of the chapter tells us that during the reign of Caesar Augustus a census was taken, forcing Mary and Joseph to leave their hometown of Nazareth and make the long journey to Bethlehem where Jesus was born.
These verses are more than just an overview of events. For the gospel writers, the accounts brought to their minds horrid events in Roman history. The great unrest in the Roman Empire, due to competing ambitions between Augustus, Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus, led to lengthy civil wars. Following his triumph in these wars, Caesar Augustus became known as the divi filius (“son of a god”). Through his self-proclaimed divinity, Augustus asserted that he would unite the empire with the strength of the Roman Army and bring peace called the Pax Romana.
These were confusing and fearful times, where people spoke about the social problems, the economic challenges, the rivalries between political powers, and were looking for a leader to solve their problems.
At the same time, we read in the gospels another narrative, the narrative of the birth of our Lord that speaks about a different King who is the Son of God, and a different way of achieving peace that is not by the sword. Everything about the birth of Jesus contradicts the way Augustus offered peace.
This reminds me of Matthew 6:10, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This needs to be our prayer that we will always look to God’s sovereign rule and not salvation from a political leader.
Political failure to bring peace then and now, and relying on and trusting in leaders can be dangerous. Even if we call ourselves followers of Jesus, it is easy to trust flawed, human leadership. We must seek a deeper perspective this Christmas and trust in Jesus’ leadership, which leads to our hope and our peace.
By Salim J. Munayer