“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.”
It is difficult to see any reality beyond the reality that we live in. We usually assume the way we see the World or the World we live in is the only possibility. One of my favorite movies was “The Truman Show” starring Jim Carrey. Carrey plays the part of Truman Burbank who was adopted as a baby by a television company and is now starring in his own movie which plays in real time. The only problem is Truman has no idea he is on a television show. He does not realize that his World is made up of people and places which are not real. One day by accident Truman discovers the World which he lives in is not all there is in life. He knows that something is not right and so he seeks to break out of the only World he knows to the World beyond.
Most of us find it hard to believe or think there is something different than what we have always known. In the ancient World, Caesar was not only king, he considered himself God. He controlled the lives of all who were in his empire. His policies and plans were the rule of the land. When Augustus decreed something, the World did not sit still. He was a mover and a shaker and if you wanted to live in any kind of peace you had better do what he says. Caesar is no different than any other empire or Kingdom. Empires and leaders come and go. Some are good(relatively so) and others not so good. But what all of them have in common is they seek to draw a picture of reality which seeks to fulfill their purposes and objectives. Almost always this means others are subjugated to some type of mistreatment. What was true for Rome is true of the cultures of our day as well. The problem which arises is that we believe what we see is the normal. In ancient Palestine, it was normal for Jewish people to be seen as second-class citizens who had to pay high exorbitant taxes to others. It was the only World they knew. Throughout American history there have been times when certain things simply seemed to be the normal way of life. Owning slaves, taking land from native Americans, denying civil rights were all considered normal. Although these issues may not be in vogue today we certainly have other things within our culture that we are told is normal but in reality, it is not.
One week from today we will celebrate Christmas. I believe the Christmas story in the Bible is a story that surprises the World. The World seeks to shape a story of reality. They want us to believe this is all there is. The Christmas story though stands in steep opposition to the reality the World wants to paint. Theologian Walter Brueggermann says, “The birth of a new king marks a new beginning in heaven and on earth of a very different kind.” Jesus entrance into the World sets in motion a new way to look at life, a new way to see life and produces a new reality. Jesus removes the shackles which enslave us and sets us free to be the people we were always meant to be. Like Truman who knew there was something bigger and better outside of his little bubble we who follow Jesus recognize there is something beyond the bubbles of this World. I pray that the Jesus who surprised Mary and the ancient World will also surprise you in such a way that you will draw to the one they call Emmanuel.