“Jesus stands incomparable amongst the world's greatest religious, philosophical and moral leaders. Socrates taught forty years, Plato fifty, Aristotle forty but Jesus' public ministry lasted less than three years, yet the influence of his life far outweighs the combined 130 years of the three greatest philosophers of all antiquity.”
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 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. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child” (Luke2:1, 4-5).
On December 25, about two billion people on Earth will celebrate Christmas, which is historically and traditionally a day set apart by Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, a birth story that occurred over two-thousand years ago but continues to be the greatest and most solemn, mysterious, and fascinating event of all time.
However, the birth of Jesus—this child, this Son, this wonderful Counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, and Prince of peace according to prophet Isaiah did not occur in a peaceful and loving environment but occurred during the most distressful social, economic and horrific political crises of that time.
Let us look at the social unrest and political tensions in which Jesus Christ was born.
THE DECREE AND POLITICAL CONDITION DURING JESUS BIRTH
Although theologians disagree on the actual birth date of Jesus, the fact remains that Jesus was a historical figure, who was born during the most tumultuous and turbulent period of that time. Dr. Luke, though a physician by profession was a great writer and historian, who gave more details than the other gospel writers. He recorded that Jesus’ birth occurred during the reign of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus.
Caesar Augustus has just been made the official ruler of the Roman Empire in 27 B.C. and he ruled until A.D. 14. In the period during the birth of Jesus, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken in all the Roman Empire. Luke 2:2 recorded that, this was the census that took place before Quirinius was Roman governor of Syria. He reigned in A.D. 6-7.
The Gospel writer, Mathew also records that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea during the time of Herod the Great. Herod was a Jewish king and Rome’s puppet in the region, who reigned in Jerusalem until 4. B.C. So, Jesus was probably born in the opening decade of the first century.
And so everyone went to their own town to register for the census. Joseph—Jesus surrogate father went to Bethlehem, his ancestral hometown to register for the census. He went with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
While they were at Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to her firstborn, a son. The child was born in a manger, a place where animals were kept because Joseph and Mary did not find a room in the Inn to lodge in order for Mary to give birth. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:1-7).
Historians have recorded that the innkeeper may have noticed that Joseph and Mary were from Galilee and so refused them accommodation because Galileans were despised and loathed. Galilee was a troubled city.
They were known for their militancy and freedom fighting against Roman occupation. There has been several uprisings in the Galilee and surrounding communities and it took Rome’s military power to calm the revolt and bring order to the region.
According to the historian Josephus, about two-thousand Galileans were crucified as a result, as crucifixion was the official form of lynching reserved for political dissenters. It has been estimated that Roman Emperor Augustus kept up to one-hundred thousand legionnaires battle-ready at all times. Therefore, this may have been the reason the Innkeeper did not rent a room to Joseph and Mary.
And so, this was the environment in which Jesus was born. It was a world under the brutal domination of Rome. It was a period of horrific political oppression of conquered territories, of moral crisis, social unrest and disorder, economic exploitation, heavy taxation of the poor, extreme poverty, disease, injustice and harsh repression of dissidents fighting for liberation and freedom from Rome.
It was in that turmoil and tumultuous time that Jesus was born, which prepared him to become a spiritual leader and political activist.
JESUS FORMATIVE YEARS AS POLITICAL ACTIVIST AND RELIGIOUS LEADER
More than any other factor, it was the Roman colonial occupation of Israel that created the setting for the formative years of Jesus and a moral leader and activism.
The suffering that the Romans visited on the Jewish people was so pervasive and so brutal that its influence on the political consciousness and social witness of Jesus was inescapable.
For this reason it must not be forgotten that even while he is worshipped as the Son of God, until his last earthly breath Jesus was also an oppressed Roman colonial subject with all that meant.
The biblical tradition to which Jesus was heir is marked at every step by political issues: justice and injustice, domination and resistance, oppression and liberation.
Indeed, the Exodus, the root event of biblical faith, was a liberation event that made the profound and lasting statement that the God of Israel is a champion of justice—that in conflicts between oppressed and oppressor.
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