Archive for the ‘Octavian’ Tag

Empires and the Kingdom of God, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  Cedars of Lebanon, 1898

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-11736

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For Christmas Day, Year 1

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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O God, who hast made this most holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light;

grant, we beseech thee, that as we have known on earth the mysteries of that Light,

we may also come to the fullness of his joys in heaven;

who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, One God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 118

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Isaiah 11:1-9

Psalm 132:6-17

Hebrews 1:1-12

Luke 2:1-20

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At least two themes unite these assigned readings:  justice/righteousness/equity and the conflict between the Kingdom of God and human empires and kingdoms founded on violence and exploitation.

If we back up into Isaiah 10 then read 11:1-9, we notice a contrast of images.  The mighty Assyrian Empire will not survive the wrath of God, who will cut it down and hack it away with iron.  The Assyrian Empire, likened to a majestic cedar of Lebanon, will fall, but a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse.  This shoot will be the ideal Davidic monarch.  He will govern justly, righteously, in a manner that will create equity.  After all, “justice” and “righteousness” are translations of the same Biblical word.

Another translation of the same word is “vindication.”  Why not?  Certainly, the poor and the oppressed need vindication.

Luke 2:1-20 is theologically rich yet historically inaccurate.  First, as honest students of Roman antiquity attest, one cannot correctly state that all those men named at the beginning held office at the same time.  Second, that census is pure fiction, objectively.  So be it.  Besides, something much more interesting is playing out.  One notices it, if one has eyes to see and ears to hear.

According to the Roman Empire, founded on violence and exploitation, the Emperor Augustus (né Octavian) was the Son of God and the Savior of the World.  He had presided over the transformation of the Roman Republic, consumed by its terminal civil war, into the Roman Empire and over the founding of the Pax Romana.  Yet, as Tacitus wrote, peace in Roman imperial terms was a desert the Romans had created.

In Luke 2:1-20, the angels sang not to praise the counterfeit Son of God and Savior of the World, but to announce the birth of the genuine article.  The angels sang at the debut of a seemingly unlikely savior, a helpless infant.

One function of the apocalyptic theme in scripture is to criticize those people and institutions in power who violate divine principles of justice/righteousness/equity.  By extolling the virtues of an ideal ruler and government one calls necessary and proper attention to the glaring shortcomings of governments and institutions dependent upon violence and exploitation.  God will cut them down, no mater how formidable they may seem from a human perspective.  Empires, kingdoms, states, and administrations rise and fall, but the Kingdom of God, fully realized on the Earth, will endure.  That is an apocalyptic promise for which we wait faithfully.

Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 12, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TRASILLA AND EMILIANA; THEIR SISTER-IN-LAW, SAINT SYLVIA OF ROME; AND HER SON, SAINT GREGORY I “THE GREAT,” BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF JOHN H. CALDWELL, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAXIMILLIAN OF TREVESTE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 295

THE FEAST OF RUTILIO GRANDE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1977

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEOPHANES THE CHRONICLER, DEFENDER OF ICONS

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