As you celebrated Christmas and heard once again that familiar story in Luke 2 of the birth of Jesus, did you notice that there are two kings in the Christmas story? The first king is a mighty name in human history -- Caesar Augustus. He was the emperor of Rome when the Roman Empire reached its zenith. By any measurement he was a king. With only a word or a gesture from him, a person could be put to death. His armies marched over the entire Mediterranean world, and he was lauded by his subjects as a "god' as his name "Augustus" implied. Statues of him adorned temples and governmental buildings all over the Empire. Yes, by any human standard, Caesar Augustus was a king.
And yet, Caesar Augustus is only in the Christmas story to mark the time of the birth of the true king, who came in the form of baby Jesus. He is the other king in the story, the little baby king, who would become the King of Kings, "at whose name every knee will bow" (Philippians 2:10). In fact, we are told in the Christmas story that this little baby will be named Jesus, and "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end" (Luke 1:32-33).
That is quite a bold promise about a king who comes as a little, innocent, helpless baby, born to parents so poor that when they dedicate him in the Temple their sacrifice is two turtle doves -- the sacrifice option available to those too poor to afford a lamb. Can you imagine that? The family of Jesus was too poor to afford one lamb for the One who was the Lamb of God? This same baby king was wrapped in swaddling cloths, a kind of papoose used by working women to carry their babies while they worked. The "sign" that the shepherds looked for was a baby born to poor parents, wrapped in poverty, lying in a barn because there was no room for him at the inn. Hardly the place to find a king, especially compared to a king like Caesar Augustus! Little wonder that the wise men had trouble finding the baby born to be king of the Jews -- he was not where one would look for a king.
Yes, there are two kings in the Christmas story. What lesson can we learn from this obvious comparison of Caesar Augustus and the baby king Jesus? Perhaps we should be reminded that there are indeed two kingdoms in this world -- the kingdom of the obvious, and the kingdom of the spiritual. We are told by scripture to give our due allegiance to governments and leaders (even church leaders), but we are also told by scripture to give our ultimate allegiance to God. The kingdom of God is in our midst, even when we don't recognize it because we are dazed and amazed by the powers of this human world.
Perhaps we can also learn where to look for God's kingdom. The kingdom of the little baby Jesus will not often be found in the obvious, and certainly not in the glamorous places of this world. Rather, we will find the Kingdom in the multitude of small acts of love and kindness, offered by unassuming persons of faith, whose lives make a difference in the world beyond measure. Don't be confused or discouraged when the Kingdom of Jesus is not noticed by CNN or by newspapers or by conversations about the "rich and famous." Look for Jesus and his Kingdom among the poor, the ordinary, the individuals quietly working for peace, and those groups of followers who are dedicated to his purposes.
Yes, there are two kings in the Christmas story, and we may spend the rest of these Twelve Days of Christmas learning the lessons of that contrast. The choice is ours: which King will we follow into the New Year?
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner