Sermon Notes from The Christmas Conspiracy Project Part 2

The Christmas Conspiracy Project Part 2

Once again, the way to gain a truly deep understanding of Scripture is to understand the circumstances under which it was written.

So, before we turn to the “Christmas story” in Luke 2, we need to understand a few things…

First of all, the Roman Empire ruled the world from Great Britain to modern Iraq (thanks Ray!)  and the Caesars (kings or emperors) ruled the empire.

How did Rome & the Caesars gain power? Terror! They had the largest and best trained army in the western world and would give an unconquered area the choice of either freely joining the Empire and paying taxes to it or going to battle and risk being crucified (the Romans could crucify more than 2000 in a day) and/or being  enslaved.

The Romans claimed that they were bringing peace but, at least in Israel, there was a 80-90% tax rate to fund this terror marketed as “peace.”

Second, Rome also made outrageous claims regarding their Caesars. For example, the Roman Senate proclaimed Augustus “God incarnate on earth”…

In 17 BC, Augustus proclaimed himself “Son of God” complete with a 12 day celebration called ‘advent.”

Caesar Augustus also took the titles “prince of peace”, “savior of the world”, and “the one who is to come.” but Rome’s favorite title for Caesar was “Lord” and the proclamation that a Caesar had been crowned was called “the Gospel” and the message behind Rome’s gospel was “on your knees.”

Caesars began to be worshipped at places called “ecclesias” (what we would call “church”) and if you didn’t worship Caesar, then, eventually, you could be killed.

This brutal, nasty and harsh life was the background to Luke 2

Luke 2:1-39

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

12 This will be a sign to you:

You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then had been a widow for eighty-four years. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.

38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.

40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

Now ask yourself a few questions about this passage: (1) Why take a census? Was it not for tax reasons to fund the empire? (2) Why is Joseph not working his family land? Is it because the tax rate has forced him to sell it? (3) Given that Jewish families were expected to show hospitality to all people, especially family, why are Joseph and Mary forced to be outdoors? Does it have to do with the fact that Joseph is engaged to a women who is a “single mother”? (4) why are shepherds, were considered “unclean” invited to the birth of the King? and (5) Why does Luke use Caesar language to describe Jesus? Maybe we have read this story all wrong.

Maybe it is much more subversive then we have been led to believe. Maybe it is presented as anti-Roman, anti-terror rescue. Now, let’s say you don’t believe that the Christmas story in Luke can be that subversive…well, let’s look at Mary’s own words in Luke 1:46-55 and esp. note the words highlighted in bold:

46 And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.

50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful

55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

Sounds like a Bob Marley song celebrating Che Guevara or Rage Against The Machine lyrics!

The message is that Jesus is Lord…there no other…all others are pretenders to the throne, he, and he only, demands and deserves worship.

This was taken so seriously by early Christians that scores of them died rather than bend their knee to Caesar.

Now, ask yourself, what do you worship? Who or what is your master? Only when Jesus becomes your God, your master, your Lord can we lead a subversive, radical insurgency to unmask the false masters and lead the hurting to peace. Esp. at Christmas, we need to be like subversives fighting a guerilla war then consumers worshipping the lord of consumerism.

These are two different empires…which one will you serve?

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