A translation of a sermon I translated from German that was preached by my friend, Armin Wenz in Germany:
Christmas Eve – 24.12.2008 – Luke 2,1-5 – Oberursel – Armin Wenz
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken throughout the world. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was the governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the family and from the noble house of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and she was pregnant.
Christ, the Eternal Son of God, was born under the political laws of our world. These laws of the mighty ones on the Earth are valid. We need governments, which through laws fight against evil and promote the good, that with taxes they look after the streets and build schools.
Admittedly the mighty ones are also always tempted to misuse their power. Jesus had hardly been born, when King Herod attempted to kill Him, because he feared Jesus as a rival. And at the end of His earthly life, Pontius Pilatus handed Christ over to death, even though he had recognized Christ’s innocence.
The wheels of bureaucracy of the Roman Empire included almost the entire known world at the time of Jesus, this bureaucracy frames, so to speak, the life of Jesus of Nazareth. While His mother is pregnant with Him, His parents must travel to their ancestral home of Bethlehem in order to be registered in the census tax. And also the hour of His death is occupied by Roman bureaucrats.
So we see, therefore, that Jesus Christ is not any exception in this point. Also He ends up in the wheels of earthly bureaucracy. Also those who heard about His incarnation also. The Eternal Son of God is also fully whole and truly one of us.
However, dear congregation, solace and help give us this observation only, if we discover, that in reality the emperor in Rome does not pulls the strings, but the Father of Jesus Christ pulls the strings. Yes, in the end it is even so, that the emperor in Rome serves God with his bureaucracy, and also with this census.
And if one viewed the entire history of Jesus, then one notices that God not only put the emperor with his bureaucracy into His service puts, but also the action of the emperor is a parable for what God in Christ is doing for mankind.
Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, so the Prophets had proclaimed Him in the Old Testament, is born in Bethlehem, the city of David’s birth.
Long before the decree of the emperor went out, God had already decreed in the Old Testament: The Savior will be born in Bethlehem. And this decree of the emperor in Rome – without knowing it – serves God, in that he ordered the census.
So the imperial heralds are sent out, who requested that the people go to their home towns. Everyone should comprehend, so that the mighty power of the empire is apparent.
The Heavenly Father also sent out heralds. However, He did not send them into all the world, but only to a few chosen people. To the magi, He sent the star. To the shepherds He sent the angel. These heralds also invite the people, to set out for a journey. God’s heralds, however, did not send the people to their earthly, ancestral homes, but they sent them to the Child in the manger.
Fear not! Behold, I proclaim to you a great joy, that will be for all people; for to you, today, the Savior has been born, who is Christ the Lord, in city of David.
The Savior, says the angel, the Savior has been born. The Roman emperor also claimed for himself the title ,,savior“. Yes, he claimed that he had brought peace to the whole world peace, in that he forced all people under his control. If the angels now describe Jesus as the Savior, then put in there that clear indication of God:
Dear shepherds! Dear people of all times! Your Savior doesn’t sit in the palaces of capital cities. These sovereigns are only servants of God who shall provide for it, that it on Earth moderately approaches civilian/civil. However, they are not your savior: they guarantee neither your health nor your life-happiness and certainly not your eternal salvation.
You want to find your Savior, like the magi and the shepherds do, so approach the Child in the manger. And hear, that through this Child you can also be My people. Whoever has been baptized in the Name of this Child, that person is registered in heaven, that person’s name is written into the book of the life. That person gets civil rights with God’s heaven for all eternity.
Therefore Baptism is like that census. The preaching of the gospel and Baptism give Christ and His resurrection a world-wide census. Christ sends out His heralds who preach His Word and baptize in His Name. People become so registered as children of God.
This registration is not the first route of an obligation for people, as the emperor’s census-tax was, but it is a privilege. Has registered us as God’s children, so we have the right to call upon the Heavenly Father directly. So we have the right to receive at any time Jesus Christ’s gifts of salvation, which we get through our faith in Him: to hear His Word and to receive His Sacraments.
This faith is the type and means, how we take our claim in the heavenly civil rights.
Therefore, whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. So says Christ, and He adds: But whoever does not believe will be damned.
Therefore, whoever does not come to Jesus and abide in Him like the shepherds did, that person gives up his civil rights. God does not force us, but He invites us.
And although it was a clear, little flock that assembled themselves around the manger in Bethlehem, this flock continues to grow to the present day, so that they are more numerous than the inhabitants of the Roman Empire ever were.
The Roman Empire goes the way of all empires. The only empire of this world that will not go under, is God’s empire that founded upon and built upon Jesus Christ, this empire, that has called everyone, who hear the Christmas gospel.
Therefore, you dear birthday-guests of the Savior Jesus Christ, if we in our life here and there complain about the many bureaucracies in our land, if we register here and there must report: Lets us not forget that in reality a different regiment is in place that is far better than the power of the politician.
And lets us not forget also that Mary and Joseph and Christ themselves were commissioned to register births and deaths with the earthly authorities.
Also that has however only serve God’s goals in heaven and with also goes, that we
through the work of salvation of the Savior win that heavenly civil rights, that we had lost based on our sin.
Therefore, dear Christian, do it as a grateful, good citizen of the heavenly empire: use the
privileges that bring you to the Child in the manger. The voice of one in that praise of the angel, when the world sings a song of sorrow, the praise the shepherds and the magi.
Then the degree of the emperor put the whole world in motion. For centuries the gospel of Jesus Christ put all people of men in motion. It may that it in these parts there are fewer people, because many people only view Jesus as folklore and ornamentation, but not as
Savior and King, with the gift that they live forever.
But on the whole the Roman Empire does not see, and not even the greatest in Germany or Europe see, that has seen and will see mankind, but that flock of people who are described in the Revelation of John, where he calls out:
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! (7,9-10).
But the Lamb of God is He who came to the world in the manger at Bethlehem, who on the cross at Golgotha laid down His life for the sin of the world. He has risen, He lives, and is returning again on the last day, appearing to open the door of heaven.
He is not like folklore and ornament like the Halloween pumpkins or the Easter bunny, that is put up today and tomorrow is cleared away, but He is the Lord and Judge of the world, to those He mercifully meets, who believe in Him.
He alone is the Savior and no one else, He calls you and me to Him. Blessed is everyone, who hears His Name and along with the shepherds adore Him all their life. Amen.