“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.” Luke 2:1-
Do you mind if we take a few minutes and think about THE TIMING of what I’m calling an “Eternal Event?” Luke says the story unfolded “In those days.” I’ve asked myself what was different or special about those days?
Nothing, it appears. Absolutely nothing.
In those days, for instance, the ‘High’ (Augustus) Caesar issued an order that all those under his rule were to be taxed. So what’s new or different about that? In our day, we have a saying that: “Nothing’s certain but death and taxes.” There’s nothing new here. At his own considerable expense and inconvenience, each and every citizen had to go back to his birthplace to register. We aren’t told what kind of records were kept; or where; or how the details and totals were collected, calculated and kept … or what the penalty might be for fraud or default. This may have been the most convenient, most efficient way to register and pay taxes from the Roman government’s point of view. Rome was in absolute power; what care had they for poor, miserable, inferior peasants?
Do you get the picture? Rome, the much despised, wielded cruel, savage power, used a mailed fist like a sledgehammer to capture and control almost all of the then known world. The iron toed Roman boot on the necks of the Jews ground down and humiliated an intensely stubborn and proud people. Those who had considered themselves to be God’s “Chosen People” must have felt they’d been grabbed by the neck like a chicken with taxes wrung out to the last shekel or denarius. And we grumble and complain about “hard times” and bad times and downturns in our economy and a looming bona fide “depression” and deprivation. By comparison, I doubt most of us even know what hardship, destitution, and deprivation really are.
In those days, they knew the meaning of suffering ~ economic, mental, physical, and spiritual ~ to the point of tortured exhaustion. They sighed and trudged wearily along, wondering perhaps if each step and breath would be their last . . . and not really caring if it were.
That’s what it was like, in those days. People were tired. Weary. Oppressed. Crushed down, hopeless and defeated. The known world labored restlessly under the militarily enforced PAX Romana (Roman Peace). After centuries of trial and error, failed policies, disappointed philosophical and religious quests, historians tell us a certain taedium vitae (Latin for “tiredness of life”) hung over the entire population like a heavy pall. Even those who held onto the Messianic hope did it very tentatively, only half-heartedly. “How long, O Lord, How Long?” they wondered collectively. “Haven’t we had enough?”
In THOSE DAYS…I’m REALLY intrigued by some of the words and phrases used in what we consider the “Nativity Narratives.” Those are two of them. In my thinking, though, this is how Luke plants this story in human history. . . in time and on terra firma (Latin for “firm ground.”). He’s not soaring around in space in some ‘Never-Never Land.’ It is obvious what he’s talking about. And Whom. And when. And where. He isn’t talking here about some lofty, unidentifiable, impersonal deity inhabiting some lofty pinnacle on a distant, mythical. mystical Mount Olympus proportions and hurling lightning bolts from that high point across the universe. Luke is speaking about a real baby boy. Born in a REAL place, and in REAL time. Breathing, crying, nursing, even occasionally wetting his diapers made of swaddling cloths, and sleeping peacefully in His mother’s arms, or there nestling and snuggling on the straw in the makeshift baby bed which had been borrowed from the farm animals and hastily improvised to meet an “emergency.” Can you imagine what it might have been like to see the animals mulling and pawing around, searching for food. Wondering where their meal was. Someone had invaded their turf. It was THEIR feed trough. Their manger!
What a sight! What a night!!!
It all took place in those days. I’ve kept asking myself: “What was so special about “those days?”
Nothing. Nothing at all. Nada. NOTHING!
Until you take into account that on one of them Jesus was born. Perhaps a day JUST TODAY!
In some sense, even those dark days provided the perfect backdrop for a miracle. The kind of “times that try men’s souls” turned out to be, in fact, the days in which “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us; and we beheld His glory.” Those were the days, but certainly not the “good ole days!”
However, on one of those days, a group of angels shouted or sang in harmony, or in unison: “Unto you is born THIS DAY, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.” And, just think about this: That grand announcement and concert was performed by an army of angels before an audience of poor, unlettered, unimportant, unknown, common shepherds, on an ordinary night, in a field on the backside of nowhere!
The really important question is this: What effect does this message have upon me IN THESE DAYS? On THIS DAY?
“A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes … and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.”
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor, educator and philosopher (1906-1945). When he wrote GOD IN THE MANGER, Dietrich was in prison, awaiting execution for his involvement in anti-Hitler activity. Waiting, hoping, for release that never came. He was executed less than four weeks before Adolph Hitler committed suicide