Today's Gospel gives us a whole "chain of command" to tell us just who was in charge at the time of our Lord's birth. The Roman Emperor and his Governor; the Jewish kings and their high-priests. This sort of enumeration was fairly common among the ancient peoples of the middle east.
The list of rulers served, first of all to date the event.
There were different calendars in use in virtually every country -- the
Romans, the Greeks, the Babylonians, the Hebrews, the Phoenicians -- each had
their own system of reckoning dates -- none of which agreed -- not even as to
how long a year was, or when it should begin or end. So, saying that something took place during the reign of a
certain king or emperor was about the best they could do to give everyone a
common frame of reference.
The enumeration of the world's leaders also served to indicate that the
writer was writing about someone of similar importance.
He wasn't writing about people and events that only pertained to some
insignificant people, in some small and remote village.
He was writing about what, today, we would call "world class"
people and events of "global significance."
St. Luke is telling us that he is writing a Gospel -- a book -- about the
King of kings and Lord of lords.
In our day -- all too often -- people underestimate the significance of
what St. Luke had to say. The
modern world's conception of Christ is not much different from its conception of
any great philosopher, like Plato or Aristotle -- or even of a political leader
like Abraham Lincoln or Mahatma Ghandi.
Modern people like to think of Jesus Christ as a purely theoretical
figure -- one who laid out a rather idealistic philosophy about how things ought
to be, but who can be ignored by the more practical men and women of the 20th
But his modern notion is altogether a mistake.
Jesus Christ is our sovereign Lord -- every bit as much as Cæsar, or
Pilate, or Herod -- every bit as much as Clinton, or Bush, or whoever will be
next. Indeed, by comparison to
Jesus Christ, all of the rulers and leaders of history fade into insignificance
-- for Jesus Christ is our Lord, both beecause He is our God, and because He is
the head of the human race.
As God He is the Creator of all things; and the One who keeps them in
existence. If He were to stop
thinking about us, even for an instant, we would flash out to non-existence. Any greater power over each and every one of us is impossible
to imagine. And it is specifically
through Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, that God's creative
power is exercised: "All
things were made through Him, and without Him was made nothing that has been
made. In Him was life. . . ."1
Even as man, He is Lord of all. It
is with His Precious Blood that we are redeemed from the eternal death of
original sin. We are, so to speak,
His purchased people, "bought at a great price"2
-- "not with corruptible things as gold or silver, but with the
Precious Blood of Christ."3
And, in this morning's Epistle, St. Paul reminds us that as God and
Man He will be our judge at the end of time, "bringing to light the hidden
things of darkness, and making manifest the counsels of the heart."4 As Lord and
Ruler of all, He will declare universal Justice to all of His subjects -- each
and every man, woman, and child in the universe.
As always, there is a lesson to be learned from these readings.
In fact, Luke writes that lesson down in very plain language.
The obvious conclusion is that if Jesus Christ is our Lord, and Master,
and Judge, we had better learn his laws and regulations;
we had better be prepared to meet Him when He comes to visit;
and, perhaps most of all, we had better be prepared for His judgment at
the time of His choosing.
Luke quotes St. John the Baptist, and tells us that we are to
"Prepare the way of the Lord, making straight His paths, filling every
valley, and leveling every mountain . . . [so that we can] see the salvation of
In the short run, this means preparation for the great feast of the
Nativity of Our Lord. A week more
of prayer and penance, a careful examination of conscience, a good Confession
before Christmas, and a firm resolution to follow the ways of the Lord in the
In the long run, it means a change of heart -- it means living one's life
fully aware and convinced that Jesus Christ is our Creator, our Savior, and our