Sermon: Same Story

December 25, 2022

Isaiah 62:6-12
Luke 20:1-20

by Eric Anderson

Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Here we are back again, less than twenty-four hours after telling this story in this same place last night. Actually, it will sound a little different, but I think you’ll find it familiar.

“Since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus [this child], whom she [Providence] filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a savior, both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance (excelled even our anticipations), surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god Augustus [holy child] was the beginning of the good news for the world that came by reason of him.”

That is not an early Christian (or later Christian) reflection on the birth of Jesus. I’ve made a couple of edits. It’s actually a Roman inscription from Priene in modern Turkey, and it refers not to Jesus, but to Augustus Caesar, the first Roman Emperor. It was carved into stone about two years before Jesus’ birth as the province set the first day of the year to Augustus’ birthday.

Jillian Engelhardt writes at Working Preacher, “This inscription (emphasis mine), written when Augustus was an adult commemorating his birthday, references the birth of Augustus Caesar as the beginning of a new era in which there will be peace and prosperity. Augustus, himself a god, is said to be a savior sent by Providence whose birth was the beginning of good news. The words for savior (soter) and good news (euangelion) are the same words used in Luke when the angel reports the birth of Jesus to the shepherds.”

Same story… almost.

People repeat stories a lot, of course. The Romans repeated the phrase “Pax Romana,” “Roman Peace,” like a mantra or a prayer. But as Dr. Engelhardt goes on to say, “Augustus claims to have brought peace and to be a great benefactor to all humankind. Yet wealth distribution in the empire was inequitable; while about 3% controlled 90%+ of the empire’s wealth, most people hovered around or below subsistence level. The empire taxed its people extensively. Taxes were paid in kind, and a small farm could be taxed as much as 75% of its yield, depending upon how corrupt the individual tax collectors were. The Pax Romana (Roman Peace) was the result of violent subjugation, not radical inclusion. Augustus’ rule often benefited the few at the expense of the many.”

It’s likely that Luke, writing forty or more years after the events he describes here, deliberately echoed the imperial language of peace, savior, and good news. The Christ child was hailed at birth as the bringer of peace – Augustus, as an adult, fought war after war to claim his imperial title. The Christ child was hailed at birth as a savior – Augustus claimed the title for himself in his fifties. The Christ child was hailed at birth as the fulfillment of good news – Augustus’ pretensions to that role would not have been universally acclaimed, and almost certainly not by shepherds.

Luke’s telling of the birth of Jesus was, in fact, a set of pinpricks designed to pop the balloon of imperial pride.

We might do well to shed our own versions of imperial pride.

This same story of Jesus’ birth, for all the majesty of an angel chorus, lacks the majesty that human beings create. Just as last night, there’s no royal palace this morning. Just as last night, there’s no warm reception from the elites of the world. Just as last night, the closest to the child are a worried pair of new parents, an overburdened family of innkeepers, and the animals whose manger the child has usurped. In the night, there’s a hint of romance to it all, the soft light of candles and olive oil lamps lending a glow to the forms of mother and child. In the morning, though, daylight reveals the patched roof and the damp hay. Breathe in the fresh air and you’re likely to think, “Ah, ha! Do these new parents know what to do about a diaper?”

In the light of day, it’s hard to hold on to the memory of angels. In the light of day, the same story feels flimsy. In the light of day, we realize that the good news of a savior who brings peace is… a lot of work.

A lot of work.

For Mary and Joseph, that was the work of years, keeping the child fed and housed and protected from the threats of those who also claimed the title of king. They taught him about love and they taught him about faith and they learned patience from him (as every parent does, and like most parents, they learned patience without great enthusiasm). They brought him to adulthood with the effort of endless marvelous and trivial days, until he accepted the role of Messiah for himself and defined peace, savior, and good news in ways that Caesar Augustus never could have done.

Same story – but oh, so different. Jesus’ peace didn’t come at the point of a sword. Jesus’ salvation wasn’t just for the powerful. Jesus’ good news was… remember what he told John the Baptist years later? “The poor have good news brought to them.”

Same story, different meaning, in the hard and hot brightness of day.

Here’s a song for the daylight of Christmas morning – and the mornings that follow for Jesus, and for us.

Morning Has Come


Morning has come, bright the sun, with the day!
Morning has come, light streams beam our way!
In the manger lies the child that the angels say
Will bring peace to the Earth – someday (soon, we pray).


In the night, the child found his time.
The stable re-echoed the newborn cries
‘Til at last, on the comfort of mother’s breast
A helpless Savior could take his rest.


In the night, o’er the hillside they called
To shepherds who heard and listened enthralled
To the news of God’s peace now come to Earth
Asleep in a manger of no great worth.


The days and the hours will fly
‘Til the babe is a healer, an honored rabbi.
He calls us to follow, to strive without cease
To create in the sunlight the angels’ peace.


© 2022 by Eric Anderson


Watch the Recorded Sermon

The link above will jump to the beginning of the sermon.

The image is The Birth by Paul Gauguin (1896) – Photo by Yelkrokoyade (talk · contribs), CC BY-SA 4.0,

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on December 25, 2022

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