by Greg Alms
There is a deep shadow that lays across the first lines of Luke chapter 2, and it is a political one. Caesar Augustus, the emperor of Rome, the most powerful man in the world, opens the scene by commanding the entire world. Everyone must be registered. That is a politician with power. He casts a long shadow.
Politics is still that way. Elections and laws and policies and cable news and presidents flow on in a never-ending attention-grabbing stream. In 2016, we were fixated on the political process. It was a “critical election” for all sides. It seemed and still seems so important. In many ways, it is. The political process has enormous power and can affect our lives and the Church in profound ways. It can cast a long shadow.
But Luke’s narrative is written to focus our attention on smaller things. From the Roman colossus Caesar, the spotlight shifts to Joseph and Mary, an ordinary couple, obeying the imperial directive and scurrying to Bethlehem. There is a frantic arrival. There is a baby born in a cattle stall. The contrast with the great Augustus could not be greater: the emperor with all power versus the infant with nothing.
But Luke has set us up and the politician everyone notices turns out to be the least important part of the story. For the sky soon opens and angels fall out of heaven, and they are not pointing to Rome or sending out tweets about Caesar. They are singing to shepherds in the dark and hurrying them towards the baby in a feeding trough. It turns out that what is important in this story is what is smallest. The baby no one knows is far more significant than the politician.
He is far more important to each of us for that baby is none other than God made flesh, the Savior of the world, the one who has come to save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). No emperor or president can ever hope to do that. But He is more important in history as well. Only a few people still remember Caesar Augustus. Jesus Christ remade the shape of Western civilization. His appearance on the stage of human affairs changed everything and continues to reshape the face of the world even today, not by setting up kingdoms or nations but with the humble stuff of preaching and Sacraments and Christian lives of witness to the good news that the Son of God has come, suffered, died and rose and lives today to forgive sins.
We do well in the feverish atmosphere of politics today to hear Luke chapter 2 again. That tiny baby is the important one. When it comes to politics, Christians do not withdraw completely like some or invest our whole selves like others. We do not throw up our hands in ultimate victory or in despair. We engage and stand up for what is right. But Luke teaches us to do so with a quiet trust in someone who is not a politician. We go forward with confidence that the one in the manger is the one with true power. He is the one who truly “rules the world with truth and grace” (LSB 387).
The Rev. Paul Gregory Alms is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Catawba, N.C.