“The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32–33)
Produce a television ad. Put a strong, virile actor in it with an imperial voice. Dress him in the royal robes of Emperor Caesar, and have him shouting, “You are, I am, we are all Caesars! Oh, yeah!” The iconic image of the Roman emperor Caesar is deliberate, and this makes it a direct challenge to Christianity.
In the first century, there was Caesar as Lord and there was Jesus as Lord. The tiny, poor church dared shout, “Jesus is Lord!” In the face of Caesar’s power, the church insisted that Jesus was the true Lord of the universe.
Now, our secular culture, dressed as Caesar, worshiping the god of Mammon, flings the challenge back into the church’s face. And once again, as in the first century, the church seems weak, vulnerable, accommodated to the powers and principalities.
Advent challenges the church to insist that Caesar has never been the true Lord and always has been the fake claimer of the throne. It is Caesar, not Jesus, who bears the burden of proof — Caesar, not Jesus, who would attempt to pretentiously, idolatrously usurp the title of “king” for himself. Advent dares announce that this is not Caesar’s world. This is God’s world.
The power grab, so chilling in its repeating cadence — “You are, I am, we are all Caesars! Oh, yeah!” — has a Christian response, rooted in Advent theology and scripture. The angel Gabriel declares that “the Lord God will give to [Jesus] the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32 – 33). Angel words given to the First Lady of the Church, Mother Mary, and listen again to her awe-inspiring response: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Kavin Rowe, in World Upside Down, reminds us that it is scarcely possible “that a Christian reader in the last first or early second century would not know that Christian claims about the identity as the Christ entailed royal claims as well.”
With the angels and Mary and the gathered church of Jesus Christ, to the ancient voice of Caesar filling our television screens, I stand and proclaim the Advent truth: “Jesus is Lord!”
Rodney Kennedy is currently professor of homiletics at Palmer Theological Seminary, and interim pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church in Schenectady, New York. His sixth book — The Immaculate Mistake: How Evangelicals Gave Birth to Donald Trump — is now out from Wipf and Stock (Cascades).