12-24-22 Christmas Eve

Bible Text: Luke 2:1-20 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus | Series: Christmas 2022 | And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. The year was 2BC. That’s two years before Christ, which is ironic, that Christ is born two years before Christ, but all that means is that a monk got the dating a couple years off. The fact is that all time is measured by Jesus. We are in the year 2022 because 2022 years ago this baby was born. All history before Jesus, all time after Jesus, all time in this world is measured by his birth in Bethlehem of Judea.

Caesar Augustus could never have imagined this. He had every reason to think that all time would be marked by his reign. He had defeated Marc Antony in the Battle of Actium in 31BC, and he had taken sole control over all the Mediterranean world, over the largest kingdom the world had ever seen. The nations worshiped Caesar Augustus as a god. And they weren’t faking it. No one had ever seen anything like this man. It was common in those days to worship men as gods, but it was always tongue in cheek, no one actually thought a man was a god, they just wanted to give him some great honor. Like when the people of Tyre call out to Herod, “The voice of a god and not a man,” it was just flattery, everyone knew it. Or in the days of Daniel, when Cyrus said all had to worship him. They worshipped him not because they thought he was a god, but because if they didn’t they’d be thrown into a den of lions. But with Augustus it was sincere. They meant it. They thought he was a god.

It started already with his adopted father Julius Caesar. The man did things no one had seen or heard of before. Marching his army from Italy to Spain in a week, a time no one thought possible. When he showed up in Asia it capitulated overnight – the time when he spoke those famous words veni, vidi, vici, I came, I saw, I conquered. And there were portents in the ski, eclipses and falling stars – whenever he did something amazing, it seemed the heavens celebrated. And then Caesar Augustus takes over and he brings peace. He was an earthly savior. That was one of the names they gave him – soter, savior. The age he ushered in is called the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace. For the first time in history there were no wars. There were no petty princes and chieftains rising up and pillaging the countryside. Mothers didn’t have to worry about their sons never returning home from campaign. Fathers didn’t have to worry about soldiers breaking down their doors and committing atrocities on their loved ones. What do people want in life? They want to be able to live in peace, raise their children, provide for themselves, have enough money to live and enough even to have some good times. Caesar Augustus gave them their heart’s desire. He gave them peace. He saved them from war. Gave them stability and wealth. And so they did worship him, they called him a god and they meant it.

And their god wanted their money. It’s the price of worldly peace. It’s never free. The armies that protect it aren’t cheap. So he issued a decree that the whole world should be taxed. This was his world, the world he ruled, the world to which he had brought peace.

But the real God was working. The Creator of heaven and earth was working. And Caesar Augustus was a tool in His almighty hand. The peace of Augustus was only what God used to give the peace of Christ. The angels sang of true peace that first Christmas night. Totally unknown to Augustus, a Jewish man and his virgin wife obeyed his decree and traveled down to the little Judean town of Bethlehem, and there a Child was born who would bring the peace that this world cannot give, the goodwill of God to all men, seen in the face of a little infant, poor and in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, who is Immanuel, God with us.

The contrast between Caesar Augustus and Jesus the Christ could not be greater. Caesar dwelt in a palace, Jesus was lying in a manger. Caesar ruled by the might of his arms. Jesus came in total weakness, a helpless baby. Caesar demanded taxes from his subjects, Jesus demanded nothing from us and everything from himself. Augustus exalted himself and claimed divinity, claimed to be God. Jesus, God from eternity, humbled himself and claimed our human nature as his own, made himself our Brother.

People want an Augustus. They do. They want wealth and stability. You do, I do. Wealth and stability are gifts from God. The wise man of Ecclesiastes says it, “Every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God.” But there is a wealth and a prosperity that Augustus could not give, no matter how he tried. Not by arms, not by laws. And he did try. He tried to make people better. He saw what his earthly peace had brought. He saw people addicted to wealth and pleasure. He saw the birthrate plummet and the divorce rate skyrocket. He saw families broken apart. He saw sexual immorality rampant, destroying society in Rome. He saw what wealth does when there is no virtue. He made laws to stop it, he regulated marriage, he gave incentives for having children, he banned public displays of wealth. But no law he issued could give people peace in their homes, peace with their own consciences, peace with one another, peace with God. There was no real peace. There was no real joy. It was a time like today. Wealth abounding. People have what they think they want. Trusting or despairing in politicians and rulers to secure it all for them. And yet their stuff doesn’t satisfy and it certainly doesn’t give them the peace they need.

The peace of Augustus failed. Augustus died like every other man. The psalmist says, “I said, you are gods, but you will die like men and fall like the princes of men.” The peace we need cannot come by force of arms or mandates of laws. Don’t look for it in elections. Don’t look for it in economic conditions. Don’t put your trust in princes or in the wealth of this world. You need the peace this world cannot give.

Look at the peace the angels sing. It is found in that poor child lyin in a manger in Bethlehem. He is Christ the Lord. He comes not to force you or to tax you or to give you laws and rules to impose some peace on you. He comes to be your peace. Look at Him. He is a poor baby. The almighty God, your Creator, who is justly angered at your sins, from whom you deserve punishment, He lies a poor baby in a dirty manger. What kind of love is this! What unexpected joy! Can you possibly doubt that God loves you, when you see Him a poor baby for you? Can you think He means you any harm, when he has joined you in your misery? Can you imagine he is angry with you, wants to punish you, when he comes to be your brother? What sin has kept him locked in heaven? What evil thing that stains your conscience has turned his face from you? What disfunction or embarrassment in your family has made him ashamed of you? Look! He isn’t angry, He isn’t far away, He isn’t unconcerned – he is born a baby. Every promise of forgiveness God ever spoke, every pledge of peace, every word of goodwill, you see fulfilled here as the virgin conceives and bears a Son. God is with us. He loves us.

All our enemies that rob us of peace, God now has come to destroy. Listen to the angels! You have God’s goodwill. He wants all good for you. He wants to remove the fear of death from you. He wants to restore the ruined relationships your sins have wrought. He wants to give you peace with Him, peace with your Father, knowing that He has removed your sins from you as far as the east is from the west. The sign to you is a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. The sign to you is God in human flesh in all humility. He has come to bear your misery. He has come to share in all your woes. He has come to face your death and conquer it. He has come to bear your sins and remove them from you. He loves you and there is no denying it – it shines in the face of that little child.

And the angels sing joy. There is greater joy in that stable than in the palaces of Caesar. There is greater joy in those cold sheep fields than in all the warm halls of kings. What can poverty, what can persecution, what can any lack of earthly peace do to dampen the joy the angels sing? God has become a man. Heaven is opened. Heaven sings for us, in joy and wonder that God loves us so much. There is greater joy in your home, greater treasure, greater wealth, no matter what else you have going on in your life, no matter the mistakes you made this year, the sin you committed, the tragedies that have struck, the state of the union, when you know and confess that to you is born a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord. Angels still wonder and heaven is still opened and God is still with us, God is still for us. And He still comes to you humble and yet all powerful to save, with the same flesh and blood that once was laid in that manger and then was offered on the cross, and now comes to you with the peace only the God-man can give. Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinner reconciled.

The year is now 2022, another year marked by the birth of God in the flesh. Caesar Augustus and his peace are relegated to the dustbin of history. The only time you ever hear his name anymore is on Christmas Eve, because he happened to be the emperor God used to give a decree so that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. That’s what God thinks of all the riches and power of this world. It is all nothing in his sight. Only there to serve His Kingdom. The treasure your Father wants you to have is His Son. And He gives Him to you. His rule continues forever, it has outlasted all others, and it will last for eternity. His name still rings out. His peace still brings joy to all who adore that little baby of Bethlehem, their Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Glory to God in the highest and peace, goodwill toward men. Amen.

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