In Holy Subversion, there is a chapter on how the church should subvert the world’s understanding of power. This excerpt is particularly relevant for this time of year, as it contrasts the power of God’s kingdom with the power of Caesar’s rule:
Consider Jesus of Nazareth alongside Caesar Augustus.
At the time of Christ’s birth, Caesar had issued a call to the Roman world that everyone be counted and properly taxed. As he enjoyed luxurious accommodations in his Roman palace, he hoped to demonstrate his own greatness before a watching world by publicizing the great number of people under his domain. And yet in an unnoticed corner of Caesar’s kingdom, in a simple stable, sleeping in a feeding trough, the Son of God had come to show the glory of his Father.
The nature of infancy teaches us something about weakness, and it teaches us something about our God. Every Christmas we celebrate not Caesar’s triumphant census, but our Emmanuel: God with us.
The Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus made himself a servant. The infinite God enclosed himself in a woman’s womb for nine months. God the Son was wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger for a bed. God made himself vulnerable.
Picture Jesus, the firstborn above all creation, the one through whom God spoke the creation of the universe, sitting on his mother Mary’s lap, learning to read and write! Such mysteries can never be fully explained. But it is the story of God coming to earth – God’s being with us – that lies at the heart of the Christian worldview.
Imagine Caesar in his palace and Jesus in the manger. Which one looks more like a king?
What would you do if you were in Bethlehem at the time and you had to choose to pledge your allegiance to either a baby boy who excited a few rugged shepherds, or the ruler of the known world with an army of thousands at his command?
Who was more powerful? Caesar or Jesus? Things are not always as they appear.
Christians must have a radically different conception of power. After all, when Jesus was crucified, it appeared that he was dying as a weak man at the hands of the strong. Pilate appeared to have the authority and power. “We have no king but Caesar!” the people shouted.
Caesar ruled by conquering lands and subjugating people. Jesus conquered sin, death, and the grave by suffering and dying – by bearing the full weight of God’s wrath towards the evil of the world and then rising again to new life.