Scripture: Luke 2:1; Isaiah 9:6-7
In 31 BC at the battle of Actium, the naval forces of Octavian, the young and ambitious nephew and adopted heir of Julius Caesar, had defeated his final foe in his quest for empire. His enemy, Marc Antony, fled to Egypt where he and his mistress, would commit suicide rather than endure capture. Rome which had been at war with itself for the better part of the previous hundred years was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. The gates of the war god’s temple were closed for only the third time in Rome’s long history. A new era of unprecedented peace – the Pax Romana – dawned.
As Octavian victoriously returned to Rome, he now set about establishing his government. He had his uncle officially defied within the state religion. He granted himself the title by which all the world would formally know him – Caesar Augustus – which humbly interpreted means, “Caesar, son of the divine.”
Years later, at the height of his power, “a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” And so it was that in the back provinces of his empire, that a carpenter named Joseph and his betrothed wife, Mary, who was with child made the journey to the village of Bethlehem, where she gave birth to a Son in a stable.
It is with no small irony that God’s only begotten Son was born during the reign of Caesar – “the divine’s” – “son;” that the Prince of Peace entered our world during the onset of the Pax Romana; that the One whose government will forever increase and be without end quietly was inaugurated by shepherds, while the mightiest monarch on earth was counting the limits of his empire from the opulence of Rome.
Caesar Augustus’ days would come to an end before the child born in Bethlehem would reach adulthood. Within the vapor of a few short centuries the so-called “Eternal City” would succumb to the Ostrogoths and its empire was no more. But the kingdom of the “Son who is given” was quietly subduing the earth, one soul at a time. For all of Rome’s might and splendor, her justice, her prosperity, her order, and her peace were as arbitrary and frail as man. But the justice and peace of God’s Kingdom are forever advancing.
This Advent, we have a choice to invest in God’s Kingdom and His Righteousness by living a life of faith that shines in the darkness; that loves our neighbors; that forgives others as we have been forgiven; that generously remembers the orphans, widows, and foreigners in our midst – or – we can continue building the sandcastles of our own kingdoms soon to be swept away.
But only one of these choices will secure a full and lasting peace.
“For unto us a Child is born
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name shall be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end.
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.”
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”