To Whom Shall We Listen?

Heritage Presbyterian Church

December 27, 2020
Scripture reading – Luke 2: 22-40

Approximately in the year 63 B.C., the nephew of Julius Caesar was born to Caesar’s sister.  Runners were sent throughout the empire announcing the birth of this child who was beloved by the man-god, Julius Caesar.  As he grew up, he was elevated to the level of son of Caesar, who had no sons of his own.  When Caesar was murdered, 19-year old Octavian found himself as the successor to his uncle.  It took some time before Octavian was able to arrange his military and his allies to take on and defeat the combined strength of his two opponents: Mark Antony and Cleopatra.  Once this was accomplished, Octavian was named Caesar and changed his name to Augustus.

From there, Caesar Augustus ruled a Roman Empire that was at the heights of its power.  Augustus was also an excellent administrator and organizer – and quickly put his skills and his ultimate authority to work.  Over the 41 years of his rule – longer than most of the Old Testament kings of Israel and Judah – Augustus ruled an empire that was peaceful and prosperous.

For all that he accomplished, Caesar Augustus is mostly forgotten today.  Except for exactly one mention of his name in the early part of the Gospel of Luke, the Biblical record is silent about his reign during this vitally important part in history.  When Augustus died in 14 A.D., he was quickly replaced by another Roman leader whose name most of us would have to look up in Google if we were even interested.

The point is Caesar Augustus was born to privilege, ruled well, was considered a god himself, and yet today is largely forgotten… and we certainly don’t worship him, this Roman “second fiddle.”

The other example I am sharing today is the story of a man named Robert.  He was born in 1843 in Illinois.  His father was a country lawyer, and his mother a beautiful debutante.  After Robert, there came three more boys, each spoiled, loved, and pampered by both their parents.  Robert would later admit that he and his father were not close due to the frequent absences caused by his father’s work.  

Later in life, Robert’s father entered politics to mixed results.  He was well-spoken but obviously out of his depth with other more well-known politicians.  This pattern might have continued had it not been for the national problem in America at the time called slavery.  His father, Abraham Lincoln, found himself in the forefront of the debate in the late 1850’s and early 1860’s.  Robert’s father was elected president in 1860 and again in 1864.  Robert was given several positions on his father’s staff where he did good work.

When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, Robert was at his bedside and weeping as his life ended.

Unfortunately, that is not the end of Robert Lincoln’s tragic story.

After his father’s death, Robert continued to work in the cabinets of several Presidents.  Again, he did good work, but he also witnessed the assassination of President James Garfield in 1881 and the assassination of William McKinley in 1901.  After that, Robert shrank from public life.

When his third and final little brother died at age 18, Robert’s mother completely lost her mind, and Robert had to have her committed to an asylum for the insane.

Robert Lincoln seemed to have many good things going for him – a famous father, a good record of public service on behalf of at least four Presidents, and a strong dedication to his country.  But today, this man is as forgotten as Caesar Augustus.  Once again, a man born to become a most tragic “second fiddle” to his more famous father.

Yet, if we look clearly at the birth and family of Jesus of Nazareth, both Caesar Augustus and Robert Lincoln would seem to have better opportunities to become the most famous in this conversation.

Jesus was the stepson of a handyman in the tiny village of Nazareth, Galilee, which was part of the Roman Empire.  His mother was a young virgin who betrothed to the handyman I mentioned…and she found herself to be pregnant.  In those days, that could get you stoned to death by the elders of their village – even though her cousin-in-law was a high priest in Jerusalem.  Joseph was a good and decent man, just as all of us picture him to be, and he didn’t want anything to happen to Mary.  Perhaps with his heart broken, his plan was to back out of the marriage contract with Mary’s father and do so quietly.

Mary, meanwhile, was facing a public scandal.  Conveniently, she went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, and stayed there for a while.  When Caesar Augustus wanted a census of his Empire, everyone had to return to their hometowns to be counted.

At this point, Joseph and a very pregnant Mary traveled to Bethlehem, and the rest is the history we all know.

The difference between Jesus and the two second fiddles I mentioned earlier is that God himself sent this particular son to these two good people.  God himself became human and lived among us.  God himself, not some artificially named “god-man,” came to save us all by preaching the Good News, casting out demons, and healing the sick.  

He also saved us all…every single one of us.

That baby in the feeding trough, cared for tenderly by his two simple parents, would grow up to surprise his parents by becoming even more than they actually knew or understood. 

That baby – the greatest individual to ever walk the earth – came to save us all.

And unlike Caesar Augustus or Robert Lincoln, that baby grew up to become the most famous individual who ever lived.

It is as the angels told the shepherds in Bethlehem:  “Tis Christ the Lord.”