In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world…And everyone went to their own town to register.So, Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
It always amazes me that the Christmas story happens right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of first-century Israel in the day-to-day realities of the Roman empire of that time. In the midst of the craziness then, in the midst of the political hassles then, in the midst of the personal struggles of people then, Jesus Christ is born for them, for us, for all. It happened then just like today, as Christmas comes among us right in the middle of the craziness of this world. The good news of the Gospel is that God’s saving work comes on His terms alone, amidst the day-to-day challenges of life. There will always be pressing matters, important meetings, government pressures, and the like. In the middle of it all, the message of life and salvation comes for you and me. What a joy!
In our first few years of work here in Washington, D.C., we have learned much. We have learned that good government supports and empowers people while bad government controls and stifles people. “Census decrees” and laws have their God-ordained place in our lives. We also have learned that government unfortunately has an insatiable appetite to manage virtually every aspect of people’s lives, even areas of conscience and faith. We have seen that appetite on display when government and regulatory forces try to stifle the public voice of the Church in its work of proclaiming God’s moral ordering of the world in its schools, universities, pro-life clinics, and adoption agencies. Some have even challenged the public legitimacy of a Christian’s right to proclaim God’s unique salvation of the world in the person and work of Jesus alone.
So, we have learned much, and we have tried to bless you with that knowledge. We have always known that government is needed to prevent the chaos that we sinful people can rain down upon one another. We know that “census decrees” and laws, even taxes, are necessary to a degree. But, amidst all of this, we are even more assured and unashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, “because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). Amidst all the freedoms that we enjoy, there is only one freedom that lasts!
So, this Christmas, we give thanks to God who gives us a government that doesn’t “issue decrees,” but defends our rights and freedoms to seek the best laws to order our lives together. But more, we give thanks that God Himself proclaims that life, abundant life, is much more than that. The season of Christmas is a time to give thanks anew for God’s unique, saving work in Christ alone comes for all, despite our efforts, despite our decrees, during the hustle and bustle of life. We rejoice that amidst the blessings of good government and temporal justice and peace, there is a message of peace that passes all understanding, a message of salvation that is beyond our efforts, one that comes by grace through faith in the Christmas Savior, Jesus of Nazareth.
Amidst the hustle and bustle of the things of this world, Christ comes to save. What good news! Merry Christmas from all of us at the LCRL!!
The Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz is the executive director of the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty.