kingdoms vs. Kingdom
Last Christmas, a sweet friend whom I get to partner alongside in mentoring teenage girls gave me a brown paper bag with a Christmas gift inside. Taking it in my hand, I realized it was a gift to open with care, something fragile was waiting for me.
I slowly and carefully pulled the item from its bubblewrap enclosure and found a small crystal crown meant to hold a votive candle.
As you likely know by now, I love candles. But, there was something too specific about the holder being a crown. It couldn't be coincidental. For the past four days, I had been thinking a lot about kingdoms.
It's not something I think about often (even though we learned this year apparently a lot of men think about the Roman Empire more often than we might have thought).
While some of us may wake up thinking of ourselves as builders because by vocation, this is what we are paid to do - build, many - of us don't. Yet, even if subconsciously, this is what we spend our days doing. We build.
We work for a company and build a product, a name, a brand, a reputation.
We serve at a church and build a community into greater faith.
We teach at a school and build the next generation of upstanding citizens.
We parent or grandparent children and build a family.
We're much more comfortable using words like "work, serve, teach" and "parent," but I believe the more accurate description is "build."
We build. This is what we do. And with every what, there is a why.
So, why do we build? Truth is, this is not new to our culture or modern-day era, this is built into our very nature as humans. God created work and created us for work. In other words, He designed us to be builders. Work was not a consequence of sin, it was there in the very beginning of creation, before The Fall, which means work was part of the Garden of Eden. It has always been part of God's will for us. But, why we work - why we build - this is of the utmost importance.
To help us answer this - why we build - let's take a look back to a man who built a long time ago. This man, he's not one of the main faces in the Christmas story. You won't see him in the nativity scene, but if we lived when he lived, we would all know about him and his grand uncle and would likely have a coin with his grand uncle's name on it. But, we're getting ahead of ourselves a bit...
Because I believe we're never too old for a bedtime story and maybe it's the kindergarten teacher in me, but I am firm believer in the power of stories to envelope our minds and lead us to greater understanding. So today, I'm retelling this historical account as a story for us - not because it's a fable or fiction but because I want our minds to be filled with imagination and wonder. Wonder is powerful. It can lead us to greater wonder and gratitude and praise and then for our faith to take action.
So whether you're tucked in, cozy under the covers or driving down the freeway to work, let's settle in together for a story from the ancient of days...
A long, long time ago lived a man who was the most powerful ruler in the land. How did he become so powerful, we may wonder? Well, his grand uncle who became the dictator was powerful. His grand uncle's name was Julius, but those close to him called him by his initials, J.C. Through an alliance, J.C. was able to form the first triumvirate, which simply means three men holding power together. With him in this first triumvirate was Pompey and Crassus in 60 BC. Together, they challenged the power of the Roman Senate. When Crassus died, J.C. saw ultimate power within reach and led his army to defeat Pompey so he could become Julius Caesar, the dictator of Rome. He believed he was building a kingdom so powerful, it would last forever. Because of this, Rome, still to this day, is known as the eternal city.
Many believed J.C. was becoming too powerful and later assassinated him. Because he had no living legitimate children under the Roman law, he had appointed his grand nephew, Augustus, (we'll refer to as Gus for short) to be his heir to the throne. Fast forward to 44 BC during Gus' reign, a seven-day comet was seen in the sky. The Roman Senate had already recognized J.C. as a god, so when the people saw the comet in the sky, they believed it to confirm his deity. So much so, it became known as Caesar's Comet, or the Julian Star or Star of Caesar. A coin was made as propaganda with text which reads, "DIVVS IVLIV" - "Divine Julius." Interesting to note, this coin was known as the Advent coin because advent means, "the arrival of a notable person, thing or event."
Not your typical bedtime story, but I believe this is a piece of history we need to know to more fully understand the story of Christmas. You see, in the gospel of Luke, we're told:
"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered." - Luke 2:1
Augustus Caesar was the Roman Emperor at the time of Jesus' birth. Why did Luke believe it was important to include this in his account? Because the parallels of the worldly kingdom and the Kingdom of heaven, the striking contradictions of Caesar's reign to Christ's reign are undeniable. Just to be sure we caught them, let's recount them together:
First and foremost, the initials. Julius Caesar - J.C. and Jesus Christ - J.C. Coincidence? I think not.
Julius was a king. Jesus is the King.
It was believed Julius was divine - had an earthly mother and his father was a god. Jesus' mother, Mary, was human and God is His Father.
Julius formed the first triumvirate. Well, no, he didn't. The first was the Trinity created by God and consisted of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Julius was trying to build an eternal kingdom in Rome. However, his reign had a beginning and we know it indeed ended. Jesus' Kingdom is the Kingdom of heaven and is truly eternal - no beginning and no end.
Julius was murdered because people believed he had become too powerful. Jesus was murdered and nailed to a criminal's cross because the religious and political leaders feared the power and authority He had to perform miracles, signs and wonders.
The sign of Julius' deity was a star in the sky. The sign of Jesus' birth, which was foretold in the Old Testament, was a star.
The coin to commemorate Julius' star was called the Advent coin. The four weeks leading up to Christmas is called Advent, so we can prepare our hearts for the birth of Jesus.
Isn't it mind-blowing? The details we can dig into because of a single verse in scripture! I'm telling you, The Bible is rich! There is always more to learn.
As I was saying before, we build. This is what we do. And with every what, there is a why.
So, why do we build? What were Julius and Augustus building? A kingdom. Why were they building - for power.
We don't typically think of the companies we work for as kingdoms, but in a very real way, this is what they are. Corporations are little kingdoms all over. I'm not saying it's bad to work for a corporation. I, myself, work for a corporation. However, being grounded into our why is of the utmost importance. Why are we working so hard? Is it for power or prestige? Is it to build a kingdom so we become greater or so God becomes greater through us? Have we created idols in our work or even our families? Are we building our own kingdoms or are we building the Kingdom of God?
As humans, we are made to build. We will build something. It is in our nature to do so. What we build and why we build is our choice. Will we build for ourselves or for God? Only one choice has an eternal impact. Everything else will fade. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but it will fade. The Kingdom of God lasts forever. May our energy and our gifts be used for an eternal purpose, to advance the Kingdom of Heaven.
Let us find strength to build as we lean on the strength of heaven. May our joy runneth over as we pour our energy into eternal work and may God's peace be our reward. May we rest knowing we are not doing this work alone; He is always with us.
The good life, well it starts with a good day. Then another. Then another. Let's choose to live #TheGoodDay one day at a time.
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