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A Christmas Meditation

Power and Vulnerability

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. … And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1,7, NIV)

Luke wrote the third Gospel sometime in the seventh decade of the first century during the reign of the cruel Caesar Nero.

More than 35 years had passed since the Lord’s resurrection and ascension into heaven. In those years the Church had grown dramatically from its beginnings in Jerusalem, and a strong believing community had emerged in the capital city of Rome.

Nero felt threatened by these followers of Christ who refused to call anyone Lord except Jesus. He severely persecuted believers, blaming them for the fire of Rome in A.D. 64, nailing them to crosses with pitch poured over them and fire set to their bodies to illuminate his gardens at night.

Do you think these early Christians ever wondered where God was in the midst of their suffering?

The Christmas story provides the answer, for it shows both the power and vulnerability of God.

As to power, think of what it was that brought Mary and Joseph 100 miles out of the small town of Nazareth in the hills of Galilee on an arduous trek in the last month of her pregnancy to Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem in the Judean hills.

They didn’t seem to know Micah 5:2 about the prophecy of the Bethlehem birth because that’s not what guided them. Rather, it was the decree of Caesar Augustus.

During the persecution under Nero, the Christians knew the inside story. The Spirit of God had slipped past Caesar’s appointments secretary, secret service and all his counselors to put an idea in his head: Take a census of the whole Roman world. God manifested His power by having Caesar move the whole world because God wanted to move one family out of Nazareth to Bethlehem to fulfill what had been spoken by the prophet Micah (see Micah 5:2).

So, the believers in Nero’s time knew for a certainty that there was a Power greater than Caesar, a Power who controlled human history.

But those same believers also knew vulnerability — that God’s powerful hand was gloved by love, that God would not use His power to coerce people to believe in Him.

The late Harry Reasoner said this in his Christmas message one year on 60 Minutes:

Everyone has seen babies, and most people like them. If God wanted to be loved as well as feared, He moved correctly here, … for a baby growing up learns all about people. If God wanted to be intimately a part of man, He moved correctly, for the experiences of birth and familyhood are our most intimate and precious experiences. … It is either all falsehood or it is the truest thing in the world. It’s the story of the great innocence of God the Baby — God in the form of man — and has such a dramatic shot toward the heart that if it is not true, for Christians, nothing is true.

Yes. God was present in both Caesar’s palace and a cave in Bethlehem where the Baby was born in a manger. Christmas tells us He is the God both of power and of love. He chooses Caesar to issue an edict, dispatches angels to sing, and directs shepherds to observe; but He leaves the choice of worship to us.

A prayer of response
Heavenly Father, when things get out of control for me I know they are never outside Your control. Thank You, Jesus, for laying aside all trappings of power and coming as a vulnerable baby, letting me know that from my own free will I can hold You to myself in love.

GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

Editor’s note: We take a brief break from our series on the Gospel of Mark for this Christmas emphasis from the Book of Luke.

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