Though rarely recognized, the account of Christ’s birth in Luke’s gospel is profoundly political. Even the shepherds summoned to his cradle are ancient biblical (and classical) images of government both divine and human. In the decree of Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed, however, we recognize political power as we think we know it: the power to command peoples and claim resources for the purposes of the state, power backed up by brute force.
Caesar’s power seems absolute – yet what really does his decree accomplish? It brings Joseph and Mary to the city of David, just in time for David’s heir, the Messiah, to be born exactly where the prophets of God’s kingdom had said he would be born. The reality of Caesar’s boasted power is to be the unwitting instrument of God’s providence and purpose, in establishing his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Thus the boasts and pretentions of worldly power are confronted and dismissed; and the angel’s proclamation of “good tidings of great joy to all people” is a claim on our allegiance, by which all other earthly obligations are radically relativized, and the hold of worldly ideologies on our hearts and minds is broken.
Roman imperial propaganda acclaimed Caesar as ‘Savior’, ‘Lord’, and ‘Son of God’ and celebrated his birthday as the beginning of “good tidings”