In this Christmas season that is meant to be celebrated with great joy, many are often overcome with a sense of despair. This is no less true in 2020 in the midst of the current conditions in our country than it has been in years past. This Christmas is proving to be even more “out of the normal” almost every day. This is all the more reason to turn to the Word of God and allow it to be a positive influence that serves to steady us in our daily lives. As a Christian, there is no room in our lives for despair. Through the work of Jesus on the cross… we are free to live a life filled with joy and hope. The Christmas story recorded by Luke demonstrates this joy associated with Jesus.
We often look at the Christmas story in our Bibles without understanding the social setting or the political climate in the world at the time. We view the birth of Christ Jesus in a sterile climate with a void backdrop. In reality, the time period was not that much different than our world today.
Consider these commentaries regarding that time period:
“The lusty peninsula (Middle East) was worn out with twenty years of civil war. Its farms had been neglected, its towns had been sacked or besieged, much of its wealth had been stolen or destroyed. Administration and protection had broken down; robbers made every street unsafe at night; highwaymen roamed the roads, kidnapped travelers, and sold them into slavery. Trade diminished, investment stood still, interest rates soared, property values fell. Morals, which had been loosened by riches and luxury, had not been improved by destitution and chaos, for few conditions are more demoralizing than poverty that comes after wealth. Rome was full of men who had lost their economic footing and then their moral stability: soldiers who had tasted adventure and had learned to kill; citizens who had seen their savings consumed in the taxes and inflation of war and waited vacuously for some returning tide to lift them back to affluence; women dizzy with freedom, multiplying divorces, abortions, and adulteries.” (Durant)
“In the century before Christ was born the evidences of disintegration were so palpable in wars, in the passing of the old order, and in moral corruption, that the thoughtful feared early collapse. From this disaster the Mediterranean Basin was saved by Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar…[but] we must note that the principate devised by Augustus did not cure but only temporarily halted the course of the disease from which Graeco-Roman culture was suffering.” (Latourette)
“Augustus and his successors had not solved the basic problems of the Mediterranean world. They had obscured them. For what appeared to be a failure in government they had substituted more government, and government was not the answer.” (Latourette)
It’s true that Jesus was born into a time of peace. However, this was only true as a result of numerous wars that had resulted in Rome conquering all surrounding regions and bringing them under its rule. This was followed by years of bloody, brutal fighting for power and money within Rome and its provinces ending with Octavian as the sole ruler of the Roman world and him taking the title Caesar Augustus…
“But as great a man as Caesar Augustus was, he was only a man. And the man who brought the answers also took a dear price. He demanded absolute power over the Roman Empire. For hundreds and hundreds of years, Rome prided itself on being a republic – a nation governed by laws, not by any man. The idea that no man was above the law, and the Roman Senate and the army and various political leaders lived together in a sometimes difficult arrangement. Now, Octavius would change all that. In 27 B.C. he arranged for the Roman Senate to give him the title Augustus, which means “exalted” and “sacred.” Now Rome wasn’t a republic, governed by laws; it was an empire governed by an emperor. The first Emperor of Rome was this same Caesar Augustus.” (Guzik)
The national climate at the time of Jesus’ birth was not all that different from the national climate that we are living in today.
Despite the challenging political climate, God was at work. While there are many examples of God working on a large scale, there are many more examples of God working within the lives of individuals. In fact, the large scale workings of God are typically a collection of smaller (often behind the scenes) workings in the lives of individuals.
Take note of how many different lives are impacted in Luke’s account of the Christmas story in the midst of a challenging national political climate.
Christ Born of Mary
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Glory in the Highest
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
Circumcision of Jesus
And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
Jesus Presented in the Temple
Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Simeon Sees God’s Salvation
And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:
“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.”
And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Anna Bears Witness to the Redeemer
Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
The Family Returns to Nazareth
So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. (Luke 2:1-40)
In the lives of Simeon and Anna, the arrival of Jesus was a blessed experience that came near the end of a long life of serving God. For many others, the arrival of Jesus would be the beginning of a blessed life of serving God. In every encounter that Jesus had, beginning at birth, He offered the opportunity for a life filled with joy for those choosing to live a life dedicated to serving God.
How is God working in your life during this season? Have you created quiet time to read His Word and allow Him to minister to you? It’s critical that each of us take time to tune out the noise of the world and the national political climate to re-calibrate our lives according to God’s purpose. Steady yourself according to His Word and align your steps with the path of Christ.
Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
May your heart be filled with great joy as you celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior this year.