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The most powerful nation on the face of the earth has ordered that a census be taken, so that everyone who a subject of that nation could be taxed. Little did they know that at that very moment in time something was taking place that was going to transform the world; and they were powerless to stop it. Truth was, they never saw it coming; and once it was underway, there was nothing they could do about it, although they certainly tried their best to eliminate it. In the end, they were defeated; their empire crumbled into nothing; but what started then continues today, and the world remains powerless against it.
This is the scene for us in the reading of the birth of our Lord as described in the Gospel according to St. Luke, and today, from the Gospel according to St. Matthew. The nation, of course, was Rome; and St. Luke tells us that Augustus had ordered the taking of a census as a prelude to the story of our Lord’s birth. There is that stark contrast between the two stories. On the one hand, the might and power of Rome, symbolized in their Emperor; on the other, a newborn baby, of humble parents, for whom there was no room at the inn, and so he was born in a cave that was being used as a stable. One the one hand, a military power that had conquered much of the world, against whom few other nations dared to stand; on the other, one helpless child who possesses all the power in heaven and on earth.
In one part of that world, a province of that Empire, someone did recognize that something was happening, and he did his best to destroy it. Herod, made king by the Romans, did all he could to destroy this new power coming into the world. But his efforts failed, though the battle was costly: the innocent young boys slain in his attempt to retain his title, the King of the Jews. These were but the first of the hundreds, and then thousands, and then millions who would be killed for their allegiance to this child, rather than to the princes and powers of the world.
Now we live in what is arguably the most powerful nation on the face of the earth, one against whom few dare stand. That nation, in ways far more subtle than those of Herod, does not seek to destroy those who today proclaim their loyalty to the King born in a stable by killing them outright. Rather, it seduces, it teases, it promises, and it misleads – and any of the flowers of this newborn King must battle their own passions, lest these be turned against them and lead them to degradation and destruction. Yet the world remains powerless to those who embrace the life of this King, for He has defeated the last enemy – death – something no power in the world can achieve. He promises the victory to those who will stand with Him in faith, even at the passing away of the world.
Brothers and sisters, with the birth of the Son of God wrapped in our humanity as He was wrapped in his body with swaddling clothes, our victory is assured; but the battle must be fought, and the battleground is within us, in our hearts and minds and souls and bodies. To succeed, we need only follow what the victors who have gone before us have done: pray; fast; give from the wealth God has entrusted to us; love; forgive, being patient and humble, and seeking heavenly things rather than earthly gains. The time of our liberation is at hand; and if we will live as Orthodox Christians, the world is powerless to stop us.
Christ is born!