Emperor Augustus was born in 63 BCE. He came to power when he was 37 and reigned as Emperor for 38 years, until he died at the age of 75 in the year 14.
He was known as one of history’s most effective rulers who ended decades of civil war in Rome and ushered in a new era of peace within the Roman empire that lasted for almost 200 years.
He created police and fire brigades, started a postal service, build temples, public baths, and arenas, and connected the empire with a brand new system of roads.
Our month of August is named after him and in his time, he was hailed as the “prince of peace”, the “son of the divine”, the “illustrious one”.
Emperor Augustus was very good for you…if you were Roman.
If you weren’t? Weeelllll….? Sorry. You lose.
Augustus was basically the Tom Brady of his day. If you’re on his side, he’s the best thing since sliced bread.
If you’re not, he’s your mortal enemy and a cheater and you hate him.
But for real, Augustus was pretty good to you. As long as you were Roman, complied with everything he wanted, and never complained about any of it.
Anyone outside of that little box, though, had a pretty tough go of it.
But isn’t that the way power works? Isn’t that the way power has always worked? It’s me against you and the stronger one wins.
Unless, of course, you agree with me. Then it’s me and you against all of them. And we’ll see who can get more people on their side.
And whoever that is, that’s the one who wins. That’s who gets to be in control and get their way.
Isn’t that the way power works? Emperor Augustus had power. He said “jump” and the empire said, “how high?” He said, “Go get registered,” and they said, “when should we show up?”
When you’re living under that kind of cloud, when the forces at work are so much bigger than you, when it seems like everything is so far beyond your control, the easiest thing to do is just give up.
To say nothing is ever going to change, and just accept that the best you can do is look after yourself and let everyone else figure out their own lives.
“Sorry, can’t help. No room left in here. Try out back.”
When you know you can’t win, you really only have 2 options. You can either give up and just realize you’re a loser. Or, you can play a different game.
Christmas, and the birth of Jesus, was God’s loud and giant declaration that it was time to start playing a new game.
This one we’ve been playing is not working. No one is actually winning anything.
And right in the face of the world’s most powerful emperor, God declares, “Your savior has arrived. Hope is here.”
But you’re not going to find it behind armies or strong men or political parties or national boundaries.
Hope doesn’t come from the winners of the world. Hope, real hope, is found among the other losers like us.
The peasants in the barn. The dirty shepherds in the fields.
Hope is found in the body of a little baby boy, born all those many years ago, in that tiny nothing town, to parents who weren’t important enough to get a real place to sleep.
Your savior has arrived! Your hope is here! God is with you!
Christmas was the start of something new. It was the start of God’s new Kingdom.
God’s Kingdom that doesn’t operate by force or might or certainty, but by love and grace and hope.
It’s a whole different kind of game. It’s a whole different kind of life. A life where there are no winner or losers. Only forgiven sinners, loved by God, called to love others.
At Christmas, we go back to the beginning. Back to the start. And we remember what God has done. And because of what God has done, all we don’t have to do.
We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to get it all right. We don’t have to win.
Because God has already done all of that. God has done it and we simply get to live lives of thanks.
God has done all that needs to be done, and all we are left with is grace. And mercy. And hope. And love.
God has done it, and there is not a power in this world that can change it.
This is Christmas.