Friday, December 24, 2010
 BUT THOU BETHLEHEM, THOUGH THOU BE LITTLE AMONG THE THOUSANDS OF JUDAH- YET OUT OF THEE SHALL HE COME FORTH UNTO ME THAT IS TO BE RULER IN ISRAEL. Micah 5:2. In the gospel of Luke we read the story of Jesus being born in a real place- at a real time. Chapter 2 says that Caesar put out a decree that ‘all the world should be taxed’ that is they did a kind of census where you had to go to your native town and register. It just so happned that Mary, Jesus mother, was living in Nazareth [Galilee] at the time and Joseph- Jesus’ step dad- was from the lineage of Judah [King David’s tribe]. So at this very inconvenient time- at the hour of child birth- they make the trek to Bethlehem of Judea- just in time for the census- and for the baby! Hundreds of years before this event there was this obscure Jewish prophet named Micah- he blurted out one day ‘out of you Bethlehem- the least of all places- shall one come forth- a great ruler of all men’ [my paraphrase]. The Jewish nation was waiting for centuries for this ‘sent one’ this messiah who would come to them in the midst of their oppression- and he would fulfill the promise that God made to father Abraham millennia before ‘we will serve him without fear and in holiness all the days of our lives’. As a matter of fact- jump back to Luke chapter 1 and you can read this promise being uttered from the lips of John the Baptist’s father when he praises God over the pregnancy of his wife Elisabeth- you see John the Baptist was also spoken about centuries before his birth- he would come on the scene as a forerunner- a precursor to the messiah. Yes, John’s father had reason to rejoice. And when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary- he told how that she was chosen for this great task- possibly the greatest task that any human was ever given- she would give birth to this promised messiah. She asks the angel ‘how can this be- I know not a man’ he tells her the Holy Spirit will come upon her and she will conceive a child from God- none before could claim the title ‘the only begotten of God’. Read Mary’s prayer in chapter 1- it too is a cry for social justice ‘the high and mighty will be brought low- the poor will be lifted up’ we call her prayer ‘The Magnificat’. Both Zacharias and Mary spoke/prophesied of social justice- that thru these seemingly strange miracles- God put in place a plan that would bring justice to all those who were being oppressed. So the day came for Mary to bear the child- but he was prophesied to be born in Bethlehem- so God preordained that the great Caesar Augustus would make a decree that ‘all the world would be taxed’. Caesar came from the beginning line of Rome’s great Caesars. Octavian- Rome’s first- would be a devastating military leader who would strike fear into the hearts of Rome’s enemies- the kingdom [Roman Empire] would take her initial form under his rule. Of course most of us our familiar with Julius Caesar- he’s made it into the Hollywood hall of fame- and Augustus- he would be the third in a line of 12 Caesars who would rule Rome. He ruled at a time when Rome was the center of the world- all roads truly did lead to Rome- the great eternal city. Rome had her religious adherents- Rome practiced a type of pluralism- when they conquered an enemy- they would allow the people to continue to have some form of self rule- believe in whatever religion suits you- but you were still under Roman rule. The Pantheon [a sort of pedestal for the various god’s of the day] represented this religious openness of Rome. Yet the Jews had a different type of belief- they held to what we describe as Monotheism- a belief that there was only one true God. Her prophets spoke the words ‘hear O Israel the Lord our God is one’ and they held to their peculiar belief while Rome overlooked it. In the midst of all these developments, Caesar makes the decree ‘everyone go back to your towns for the census’ and Mary and Joseph hit the road. Sure enough the time came for her to deliver the child- he was born in a stable- laid in a manger and the world would receive her king. 2 Thousand years have passed- where are the great Caesars? Have you ever even heard of the name Octavian before today? Yet all over the world- in every nation- on the radio- over the internet- being shouted from the speakers at the mall- yes, all over the world we sing that Jesus Christ is king- the one born in Bethlehem of Judea- the one for whom the whole world was a stage- even the mighty Caesars of the day bowed the knee unto this eternal purpose of God- they would be puppets in the hand of God- used of God to make decrees that would fulfill the obscure prophecy of some Jewish prophet named Micah- yes- the Virgin had it right ‘God brought down the mighty- used them for his purposes- and exalted those who were struggling’. Rejoice- for in this day- 2 thousand years ago- was born a great ruler- a ruler of all men- his hometown is now famous because of this birth.