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Caesar and the Spirit of Christmas - Shepherd of Hope

“And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they marveled at Him.” Mark 12:17

 

Are you in the Christmas spirit? Some people are. Some people aren’t. But even those who claim to be in the spirit of Christmas are caught up in a “spirit” other than the true Christmas spirit. I want to talk about the right spirit of Christmas; a spirit that gets back to the reason for the season, Jesus.

There seems to be less pressure financially for many people this year. More people are working today than have been in a very long time. That’s true for all groups across the board. There are fewer governmental intrusions and restrictions which has allowed for businesses to flourish and hire more people. More jobs and better jobs have resulted in more disposable money in the pocket. And that means more money to spend on gifts this Christmas. We may not be able to purchase our loved one a brand-new car like we see in commercials, but we’re able to do more gifting this year than in years past. But is this the spirit of Christmas? Giving is a blessed activity (Acts 20:35). But the spirit of Christmas is more than self-enrichment or even the enrichment of others.

This year there’s also a greater sense of the sanctity of human life, victory over world enemies, and patriotism. I could reference other areas where our nation seems to be on the upturn. But much of the good going on in recent years is being drowned out by a politics of dissatisfaction. If media and a very vocal political constituency are correct, this nation is meaner, more bigoted, hateful, corrupt, greedy, selfish and self-serving than ever before. And this constituency, led by radical politicians, is trying to drown out, deny, reject, and beat down any positives we’ve been experiencing.

Those living in a fantasy world of emotions are trying to shout down all opposition with accusations of fascism while it appears to any neutral observer that it is they themselves who are acting most oppressively like fascists. There is indeed corruption, and a swamp in government to be drained, but it seems like it’s being purposefully ignored. It seems like there is a Deep State firmly entrenched in government that is holding on to their power and privileged positions. The introduction of a non-politician into Washington threatens to expose their ineptitude and cronyism. A bear has been poked in the eye. And that bear is indignantly angry over someone they see as an intruder. In fact, if you really get down to it, there’s a good argument to be made that the president is being “impeached” for trying to expose corruption. Crazy. Disconcerting. There is great disinformation going on, and an even greater division.

This great divide is epitomized in the current “impeachment” proceedings. Never in the history of our nation has there been more disregard and outright disobedience to the rule of law. It seems the switch has been flipped so that a person is guilty until proven innocent rather than innocent until proven guilty. And actual facts and tangible evidence and eyewitnesses are an afterthought to what’s taking place. These have been replaced with personal opinion and haughty accusation. The truth of the situation is that, since the early moments of the election of Donald Trump in 2016, Democrats have been pushing for impeachment.[1] There’s evidence and an investigation to determine if FISA[2] warrants were obtained illegally, with the permission of the previous president and the collusion of many liberal heads and higher ups of national security agencies. These warrants are believed by some to have been sought and used to eavesdrop on President Trump and those around him in hopes of digging up dirt worthy of impeachment. You are free to disagree, but it looks to me as though an attempt was and is being made to overturn election results. Some call it a coup.

Whatever your view on these proceedings, they are chaotic. The mainstream media doesn’t help the situation as controversy is a surefire means to draw people in to watch their stations or media forms. These hearings are a circus. There’s more shouting than substance. They are a cacophony of conflicting messages. They are a distraction to our obsessed political representatives that has prevented them from getting anything of substance and worth accomplished for their constituencies and this nation. If they’d listen we’d tell them, “Don’t cast blame, just stop and start serving the people, not yourselves.”

As I speak there is an active shooter situation unfolding in our metro area. A policeman has been shot. Details are sketchy. But the violence we see in this world is another way the spirit of Christmas is transfused right out of us.

It’s all very nerve wracking. It’s all very anxiety producing. It’s a big mess and it threatens to rob us of the message of this great season of Christmas. There’s a lot of conflict in view as our nation seems to be tearing apart at the seams. It’s all confusing to most, infuriating to many, frustrating to still others, and downright draining to what’s left of our Christmas spirit. It’s all crowding Jesus out of our thoughts. Compound this national craziness with what might be difficult personal circumstances and it’s not hard to see how people might miss the Christmas spirit.

What is the Christmas spirit? First off, we have to detach some of the traditional tinsel that’s become attached to this Christmas tree. It’s not likely Jesus was actually born in December. It’s more likely He was born in September or at the end of the summer. This is largely based on the fact that shepherds wouldn’t be in the field in winter time (Luke 2:8ff.). (Yes, Israel does have a wintery season. Jerusalem is sometimes covered in snow!) And there are many other traditions connected with Christmas like evergreen trees (or artificial facsimiles thereof), tree lights, wreaths, mistletoe, ginger bread cookies, eggnog, not to mention Santa (Satan?) Claus. Such traditions can often be traced to pagan roots. They were adopted by the Roman Catholic church for seeker friendly means to relate to pagan people. This is tinsel that often prevents us from seeing through to the true tree of Jesus. I have no problem with cookies and candy and gifts etc., during Christmas, as long as it doesn’t distract us from Jesus. (I draw the line at Santa though. Santa is bogus!)

Theologically, Christmas speaks of the incarnation of Jesus. It speaks of the humility of Jesus. And it speaks of the providential workings of God to carry out His redemptive plan in Christ. These are all part of the spirit of Christmas. But there are other down to earth revelations intertwined in the incarnation of Christ. They speak to our present state of affairs; especially this year.

If there’s no room for Jesus in your holiday season, it wouldn’t be the first time there was no room for Jesus. The first time He came there was no room for Him. In the Gospel of Luke, it states, “And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7). So how can we fix this? How can we make room for Jesus in this chaotic and controversial climate of our day? I would suggest the following.

God’s ways are not our ways. God works in ways that we don’t readily understand. His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:7-11). In Romans 12:2 it tells us not to be conformed to the world. A reason for this is that God regularly works in ways that the world and even the religious community cannot relate to. God’s workings with this messy mixed up world can be, well, messy. We can feel like there are two squirrels are chasing each other around in our heads. Not conducive to the spirit of Christmas.

The ways of God are nonconformist and unorthodox by secular and religious standards. We need to be ready for that. We need to accept that. And we need to receive that by faith. Who would have thought that a single Teacher with an inner core of 12 rag tag disciples would turn out to be not only God in the flesh, but the Savior of the world? Who could have expected a foster child of a construction worker would rise to impact an entire planet? Who would have thought the Savior of the world, God in the flesh, would be born in a stable because there was no other place for his mother to give Him birth? Who would have thought this child would be the way, the truth, and the life; the only way to eternal life with God? God’s ways are not our ways.

God can weave His will through the plans of men. Something frequently glanced over in the account of the birth of Jesus is that, God worked through a decree of a worldly emperor. The entire reason why Jesus was born in Bethlehem was due to a decree from Caesar Augustus. Caesar ordered all people in the Roman Empire to be registered. This meant they had to return to their city of origin (Luke 2:1-4). And this is what the parents of Jesus did. Mary was in the last stages of her pregnancy. I’m sure such a journey was very uncomfortable. But they complied. They obeyed. And it was all a part of God’s plan. God worked when they obeyed.

God ordains governments to be and exist (cf. Romans 13). He allows for even unjust, corrupt and evil governments to exist. He is not the Author of such injustice. But He in His sovereign place overall allows them to exist. We might not fully understand that. But its evident throughout history. Which brings us to an important point in rediscovering the spirit of Christmas.

Later in life, as Jesus drew closer to Jerusalem and the climax of His atoning destiny, He was challenged and confronted more and more by religious opponents. They tried to trip Him up with disingenuous questions and “what ifs.” On one such occasion He was given a Roman coin and asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? . . . Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?” (Mark 12:14-15). Jesus saw right through their hypocrisy. After identifying the image on the coin as that of Caesar, He answered, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:16-17). There’s something profound in His response that I believe will help us to recapture the spirit of Christmas, and the spirit of Christ.

Jesus, from the very start, is connected with a cooperation with the government. And in His answer to the religious leaders, He pointed out a twofold responsibility to follow. We are to render to government what is due it. And we are to render to God what is due Him. There is a twofold responsibility here. And when we do that, God has a way of working.

Evidence of this is seen in Matthew’s account of another challenge to Jesus. This time it concerned paying the Temple tax. Jesus paid the tax. To punctuate this payment Jesus sent Peter to go fishing and told him the first fish he catches would have the money in its mouth to pay the tax (Matthew 17:27). Why did Jesus do this? He did it, “lest we offend them” by not paying the tax.

What can we learn from this? I would suggest, (especially to our liberal activist friends who have rejected the results of the last election), that a lot of anxiety and division could be avoided if we would simply work through our governmental system. Now granted, our system, while a good one (the best one), is not perfect. There are injustices. There are problems. But there are Executive, Legislative, and Judicial checks and balances to authority. We have a Constitution that transcends all others. Our system is a federal republic that elects its officials democratically. Fairness is assured and balanced representation of each vote is provided through an Electoral College. There is a provision for impeachment. But I would say that when we abuse a system, any system, for personal gain, no system will be able to stand. “A house divided cannot stand” (Matthew 12:22; Mark 3:20; Luke 11:14 and 17).

We need to make room for Jesus here. Jesus complied with the government as much as was required and as much as did not conflict with God’s word. It is the non-rendering to Caesar that we see happening in our nation today that has driven away the spirit of Christmas. And I would add, it is the Christian’s neglect of their responsibilities to government that has led to much of the immoral, debauched, unjust, truly bigoted, evil circumstances in our nation today. Truly because of our neglect we have come to a point where good is referred to as evil and evil good (Isaiah 5:20). Christians are called by God to be instruments in the hands of the Spirit for restraint to the sinful darkness around us (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Jesus calls us to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). In the power of the Holy Spirit who knows if God can reverse some if not all of the damage that has been done (cf. Acts). This means voting, but it also means being informed, speaking up for truth, and getting involved in government. Pray about it. Let the Spirit lead you. Obey God’s calling.

And I would add one other thing. We are to follow truth as our Savior Jesus did. We are to be proclaimers of truth (John 18:37). The truth of scripture is what sets us apart and distinguishes us from all others (John 17:17). That truth must be spoken and implemented in love (Ephesians 4:15). And that love is not something that comes from us. The love we need to implement God’s truth in life is from the indwelling Holy Spirit. “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5). Such love is by nature long-suffering, kind, humble, courteous, not easily provoked, not evil thinking, but rather rejoices in truth. Such love “never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). That is the spirit of Christmas. That is the Spirit of Christ. That is what we need.

Our plan can be opposed to His plan. Mary and Joseph obeyed, and God acted. That’s a principle to live by. “And we are witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32). If you want to be empowered and guided by the Spirit, you must be willing to obey. You must have a spirit of obedience, not rebellion, for God to act. That is something many politicians of our day, even those who claim to be “Christians,” need to understand.

At the risk of driving some further from the spirit of Christmas, I’d like to ask a question. How many of you, when reading the account of Jesus birth and His parent’s journey to Bethlehem, thought, “Hey, wait a minute, Jesus was an illegal immigrant! And isn’t the Christmas story about illegal immigration?” Come on, raise your hand, if that was your thinking. If it was, I caution you against allowing feelings and political persuasions to coax you. Guard against reading into the text of the passage (i.e. eisegesis). Don’t’ superimpose on scripture your modern-day political persuasions; one way or the other. Doing so only crowds Jesus out of Christmas, and in this case, leads one into a questionable interpretation.[3] Yes, we should be compassionate to all, but that doesn’t mean relying on misinterpretations of scripture, breaking national boundaries, breaking the order of laws in ways that add to the chaos of a citizenry. God is orderly (1 Cor. 14:33 and 40). God has set up guidelines to deal with such issues.[4] I know it’s hard, especially those with the gift of mercy, but we have to go objectively to the scripture and apply it in truth and love. And the love of application and action toward others needs to be true to scripture. Otherwise it devolves into sentimentalism and even sin. And that quenches the Spirit, especially the spirit of Christmas.

God’s ways are not our ways. God’s plans may keep us from things we think are best for us, or others. But God’s plan is always the best plan. He has only the best of intentions for us all. If He says, “No,” to a request of ours, it is only because He has something infinitely and eternally better for us. We are limited and finite in understanding. He is infinite and all knowing. It’s always best to trust the LORD; even when we don’t understand. He is God, we are not. Remember that when considering politics or personal life.

God is able to accomplish His will even when all seems lost. Mrs. A. E. Gadsby of Niagara Falls, Canada, in December 1940 mailed a Christmas parcel to her daughter in Prestwick, Scotland. It was during World War II. The ship carrying the mail was torpedoed off the west coast of Ireland. All seemed lost in terms of that package ever reaching its destination. But a favorable tide floated the package unerringly ashore on the beach of Prestwick. The package was discovered. The contents were soaked but perfectly usable. The address was still legible and the package reached the addressee two days after Christmas. Who would have thought such a story of salvage was possible. But God has a plan and He will work it out. “There is nothing too hard for You” Lord (Jeremiah 32:17; cf. also Jeremiah 29:11-13). Hope in Him (Psalm 42). That’s what the spirit of Christmas does.

God incorporates human free will in His plans. Human free will does not take God by surprise. But it does make for an interesting journey in God’s plans. Because of human free will Joseph in Old Testament times was sold into slavery. He was falsely accused and imprisoned. He was forgotten for a time. But later he was exalted to the second in command in the Egyptian empire. He was ultimately used by God, despite all of his hardship. God used Joseph to preserve the Messianic family line (Genesis 50:20). God’s providential plans are all over the pages of scripture.

In the New Testament, because of human free will, there was an innkeeper who had no room for Jesus. Because of human free will Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest and most trusted disciples. Yet God used all of this to bring salvation to the world through His Son. God uses human free will. We have to choose to cooperate with God’s plans. God unfolds His plan bit by bit. As we follow His lead we begin to see. Sometimes the full plan won’t be seen until glory. Through it all, no matter what, the best plan is to trust in God, hope in God, love the Lord and let Him bring to pass His good plan (Romans 8:28).

Obstacles don’t necessarily mean we are out of God’s will. What if Joseph and Mary said, “Okay, there’s no room here for us to have the baby, let’s go to the next town”? If they had done that, Jesus would not have been born in Bethlehem according to Messianic prophecy (Micah 5:2). That would have disqualified Him as Messiah. But they trusted in the Lord. They obeyed. And they made due with what God provided. There is no record of any complaints on their part. There is only a record of humble submission. Christmas is a time notorious for combustible complaints. God’s word tells us to “do all things without complaining and disputing” (Philippians 2:14). Take action right now so that there’s room for Jesus in your heart. Clean out your complaints and bad Christmas attitudes. Trust the Lord and see what He will do.

When we encounter obstacles, we should follow the leading of the Spirit. Mary and Joseph were humble enough to follow the Spirit. They didn’t come to Bethlehem expecting to have Mary give birth in a stable. But that is where the Spirit led them and that is where they went. The Spirit will never lead in a way that is contrary to God’s word (Romans 8:14). We discover God’s will by giving ourselves to Him as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2).

There is an enemy who wants to shut Jesus out. The devil wants to destroy Jesus and all who love Him. We see this in the slaughter of the innocents ordered by Herod (Matthew 2:16-18). Herod and many other people in history have been enemies of Jesus and His people. But the ultimate enemy of Jesus is Satan. Of Satan it is stated: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

Jesus came to destroy the works of Satan (Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8). We have an enemy and he seeks to distract, deceive and destroy everything connected with Jesus. We see our own version of the slaughter of innocents in the abortion industry. We see his ugly hand of division in our government as well as broken family relationships. The enemies’ objective is to make sure there is no room for Jesus in our life. He is ruthless and merciless in this effort. Don’t let him succeed! Make a conscious effort to have meaningful devotional times with the Lord each day during this time of year. Pray for your leaders and out nation (e.g. 2 Chronicles 7:14; 1 Timothy 2:1ff.). This will help you, and others, to make room for Jesus each day. Cultivate spiritual sensitivity to how Jesus might want to use you to help others make room for Him.

Not everyone has room for Jesus. Jesus states, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Rev. 3:20). Jesus especially knocks on the door of the Church seeking to come in and fellowship. But not everyone has room for Jesus. Some are too busy. Some are too self-absorbed to let Jesus in. Some are too dissatisfied and angry to let Him in. Others are too proud and busy worshipping themselves to let Christ in. And still others want to rule on the throne rather than have Jesus be Lord. It’s possible to be so caught up in “ministry,” that you miss Jesus. You can be so busy doing that you leave your First Love Jesus (e.g. Revelation 2:1-7). When Jesus knocks, open to Him. He is the reason for the season. Don’t forget that. Don’t be cheated out of the presence of Jesus this Christmas (Colossians 2:8, 23).

Do you have room for Jesus this Christmas? Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart right now. You may have never paid attention to His knocking. But maybe now He is getting your attention. Will you open the door of your heart and invite Him in? If you’d like to do that here’s some simple instructions: Admit you have sinned against God’s holy law and deserve eternal damnation (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Acknowledge that Jesus died for your sins upon the cross; He died in your place on the cross; He paid the penalty you deserved for your sins on the cross. Ask by faith God to forgive you of your sin based on your accepting what Jesus has done for you on the cross (Romans 6:23; 5:8). Advance in the Spirit and depend on God to help you bear spiritual fruit and live for Jesus.

Don’t let the chaos of Caesar rob you of the spirit of Christmas. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Pray for guidance and wisdom how to do that. Then follow the leading of the Spirit and enjoy the spirit of Christmas. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/09/25/why-now-moments-that-moved-pelosi-house-democrats-toward-impeachment/

[2] Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Agency

[3] https://pulpitandpen.org/2013/12/18/was-jesus-an-illegal-immigrant/

[4] https://capmin.org/what-the-bible-says-about-illegal-immigration/

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