Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas Devotional 2013! Day 1: Luke 2:1

Last year's Christmas devotional series made such an impact on my readers that I've decided to do another series this year!  This year's devotional series will go verse by verse through a section of scripture that we hear read so often this time of year, that we forget to stop and realize what it is really saying.  We'll be focusing on Luke 2:1-20, the traditional Christmas story.  Each day I'll take a verse from this scripture and use it as the basis of that day's devotion.  Enjoy!

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  -Luke 2:1

We don't think of the Christmas story as having any sort of political undertones in it, but this very first verse describes a political climate of the Hebrew people.  Caesar Augustus was the first Roman emperor and many historians believe that Caesar Augustus's rule was the foundation of a 1400 year regime that ended with the fall of Constantinople in 1453.  His rule was so historic that in many languages, the word for "emperor" is some derivative of the name Caesar, including the German word "Kaiser" and the Russian word "Tzar".

This time period was also the birth of the Zealot movement (Simon the Zealot, who would later become one of Jesus' disciples, was part of this movement).  The Zealots were primarily Jews who were protesting Roman rule.  They advocated violence against the Roman state, the Jews that collaborated with the Romans and against the Sadducees, who were a sect of Judiasm that were known for their affluence and their blurring of religious, political and social lines.  The Zealots were seen as a rough and ragged grassroots movement with an "inviolable attachment to liberty".

The census mentioned in this verse was actually a change in the tax code for everyone living inside the Roman empire, whether Roman citizens or not.  Many Jews saw these taxes as being a legal form of slavery to a pagan government who oppressed them and held them hostage through acts of violence and a terrorist dictatorship.

So, we have a government that is overstepping its bounds, primarily through taxes and elite social and political contacts, and a grassroots movement demanding liberty, less taxation and who are willing to resort to violence if need be.  Does this sound like anything we may be experiencing today?

It helps us to understand the amount of hope that Jesus' birth brought to the world when we understand the truly dark, scary and confusing times in which these people lived.  He would bring clarity to this world by reminding God's people that everything in this world is temporary, that there is a Father in Heaven whose love is more powerful than any oppressive government, unfair taxation, or violent uprising in the streets.

Jesus will make a way for God's people to have an intimate relationship with the Father and provide a means for us to share in eternal life.  Jesus' sacrifice for their eternal salvation will allow God's infinite nature to fall on them and suddenly shift their perspective and free them from the day to day trials of this fallen world.

And Jesus' sacrifice still does the same for us today.  In a world of crazy politics, oppressive governments, ethnic cleansing, and rampant crime, the hope that Jesus created 2000 years ago is still the only hope we have.  The problems of the world will terrify and paralyze us unless we keep our hope completely focused on Him.  Congress will never make the right decision.  Dictatorships will never willingly give up their stronghold.  People will continue to debase themselves more and more until society itself will have nothing good in it.  Jesus is our only hope.  It's okay to put all our eggs in one basket as long as it is in His basket!  In fact, if we are Christians, it is ridiculous to hope in anything else.

Today, keep your eyes focused on Jesus.  Forget about the rampant evil in the world, the corrupt government and the ineptitude of the world around you.  Of course they are screwed up.  Jesus promised they would be.  Put all your hope in Him and His promises and take rest in His love for you!

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