Advent: Christ’s birth fulfilled (Lk. 2: 1-7)
Although they may not always be conscious of it, a great many people move away
from the reality of daily life during the days around Christmas. They seem to end up on a
side track of history. Afterwards they return to the normal routine of their human existence.
This routine entails a daily rhythm of awakening in the morning, working during
the day, and relaxing or diverting the attention through different activities at night; the
weeks, too, have their routine of workdays and weekends; yes, even the ongoing history
of the world in which they live knows its common features such as conflicts and wars,
unrest and violence, economic ups and downs, etc. When the time of Christmas is approaching,
however, every rhythm and routine must be interrupted. Workdays become
holidays, normal light turns to Christmas lights, yes even the ongoing conflicts and
wars make place for a temporary truce and artificial peace. For Christmas is special; the
story uncommon, the history abnormal, the events extra-ordinary!
This special experience of Christmas, however, dear listeners, is unlike its very origin,
the birthday of Christ! Then all things continued as usual, so much so that no one was
aware of its great event. In the entire world community the happening went unnoticed.
It’s only through Divine interference by means of angels that the circle of believers, of
shepherds, and of scientists paid attention to it. Without God’s own information in His
Word, no one would see today either what really went on at the time: namely, the Son of
God, the Lord Jesus Christ, placed the history of church and world on the track of salvation!
The Son of God entered upon the world of man, lost in sin, upon the history of misery,
of church and world! This world and history of misery and disaster would have
remained unchanged, had not the Son of God come down! By God’s rule and the Son’s
birth the history of church and world was changed, breaking through every routine, every
rule, and every rut! Now He, the Lord Jesus still rules the ways of the world and still
controls the courses of history! That is the gospel, dear listeners of Christ’s birth, about
the real truth, which we celebrated just two days ago!
Luke described the story of Christ’s birth in such a way that with a few changes in the
names, it could have happened today. Chapter 2 starts out with the names of some great
and prominent men. We could mention a few of those names for our time as well. Augustus
and Quirinius were men who could make or break their subjects, if they deemed this
necessary. We know such people today as well. They became well-known all over, because
their decisions affected many: one decree could break up the whole society and
bring the whole world in motion. A few important world leaders could do so today also!
Augustus, the mighty Caesar of Rome, completely controlled the political situation in the
world. Without his permission, no country in the inhabited world could as much as move.
It was impossible to get around him in any decision or plan.
When putting it this way, it almost sounds like the description of the power of God.
Well, indeed, to Augustus divine names and divine honour was given. The world didn’t
need a Saviour; he was there already: Augustus, the exalted one, was his name! He earned
that name by his noble rule. He pursued the freedom, the peace, and the prosperity of
his subjects. He was a man with high ideals for the world. Well, from this Augustus the
decree came that a kind of census, a complete registration, of his entire empire should take
place! So that’s what happened, however cumbersome and troublesome that would be
for his subjects! Is this actually not the same still, dear listeners? What do people talk
about? What are people looking for? In world affairs is not the first question: What will
Washington do? How will London, Paris, Berlin, or Moscow respond? The world situation
depends on the powers of men like them! In that framework you also have to see the
census, which took place when the Son of God was coming into this world.
This census had been in progress for quite a while already. Now, however, also the
people of Israel become involved. Those people, too, are part of the whole of the Roman
Empire, and nothing more. Joseph was confronted with the question of compliance or revolt
as well. After all, Joseph is from the generation of David; he is the heir par excellence!
Would he have to pay taxes? Should he submit to the call of registration? Joseph also set
out on a journey, together with Mary his wife. She comes along, even if this was not really
necessary. No, that was not a matter of sacrificing principles for practical purposes.
This was a case of humiliation, ordained by God Himself! Already before His birth the
promised son of David, who at the same time is Son of God, was subjected to the decree
of the Caesar. Why? Well, dear listener, because there was yet another One who also assessed
the world and mankind. God! And He determined that due to sin nothing could be
collected from this earth. The world was in a condition of total bankruptcy! Unless…, unless
God Himself would interfere! Unless He would, unlike Augustus, seek to give to
them, yes give His own Son for the salvation of the world!
Above the government buildings in Rome, the centre of the world, dear listeners, the
Almighty God is enthroned. Without knowing it, Caesar Augustus is subservient to God
and His plan. Against his will, he must cooperate in the break-through of the kingdom of
heaven! In Luke 2 we read, “In those days…” What days? In the days that were described
in chapter 1 of Luke’s account! In the days in which the LORD, the God of heaven
and earth, prepared everything for the coming of His Son in the flesh! Then, in those
days, God came to visit His people! It was not Augustus’ agenda which determined the
birth of the Christ in Bethlehem, but God’s program which ordained the census of Israel!
When the son of David, together with his son according to the law, underwent the greatest
humiliation, the LORD spoke His decree so that His Son would go through suffering
to glory, through death to the victory over death and over all the enemies of life!
What a comfort dear listeners, this gospel of Christ’s birth, also in our world filled
with turmoil. Many are filled with fear. Today as well, there are dictators, who are after
others, seeking what they can take. Peoples and nations are run underfoot, starving,
massacred. The message of Luke 2, however, proclaims that the throne of God is set up
also above Syria, Iraq, and North Korea. You don’t have to become nervous when you
watch the shocking news flashes. All power in heaven and on earth has been given to
Him who came from Bethlehem to the heavenly Jerusalem. With this message He sent His
disciples into the world. Only a few years later the apostle Paul, a servant of Jesus
Christ, is standing in Rome. There he proclaims the Name of the Saviour of the world!
What a comfort! The gospel of Christ’s birth teaches us, that where our human considerations
see darkness, the plan of God works light and makes progress in His work toward
the coming of His kingdom! Jesus Christ is King! He reigns! His power does not manifest
itself in spectacular ways. He seeks us in our poverty; He finds us in our misery due to
sin! Thus He came to you and me also dear listeners that we would believe in Him, the
Lord Jesus Christ, as the only Name given by which we can be saved!