“The Road to Bethlehem” Advent devotion for December 6, 2021. Photo by iam_os on Unsplash.
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1).
Though Octavian, better known as Caesar Augustus, possessed power and authority as the first Roman emperor, he unknowingly served a greater purpose and a higher authority when he decreed that the world (the empire) be registered. The census would bring Joseph and his betrothed, Mary, to Bethlehem, where the birth of the Christ would fulfill the ancient prophecy of Micah (Micah 5:2).
This is not the first time in history that God used a human ruler to carry out his plans and fulfill his promises. He hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that Israel would get to see what the Almighty God could do. Both Sennacherib, king of Assyria and Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, were God’s instruments to discipline both the northern and southern kingdoms who would not stop worshiping their idols. Cyrus, king of Persia, issued the command that God’s people return home, ending their seventy year exile. Pilate, governor of Judea, had the authority to order Jesus’ crucifixion, setting into motion his innocent suffering and death and powerful resurrection.
Both Peter (1 Peter 2:13) and Paul (Romans 13:1) encouraged early Christians to submit to earthly rulers, because they received their authority from God himself. As much as some wanted Jesus to lead a rebellion, Jesus never challenged Roman authority. Both his followers and his opponents expected an uprising, but all they ever got was humility, compassion and mercy.
Whether those in office or those on the throne are godly and faithful or not, we pray for kings and all who are in high position (1 Timothy 2:2). We are confident that God can work through those who don’t even know him, like Pilate, as well as those who have a heart like his, like king David.
Caesar Augustus did so much more during his reign, expanding the empire, building a network of roads, and reigning over decades of peace. But he paves the road to Bethlehem by decreeing a census. Because of that he’s a part of the narration in our Christmas programs. He’s part of the reason we sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” He’s not a figure in our nativities, but he played a part behind the scenes. Octavian had no idea that he would be part of the greatest story ever told!
Lord, we lift up those who ruler over us, in our communities and our nation. Let our Advent and Christmas celebration be a reminder of how they are your servants, whether we admire them or not. Help us to see through them to your rule over us as King of kings and Lord of lords. Amen.