The Second Sunday of Advent

In Acts 5 we read part of a speech Gamaliel gave to the Jewish Council who were considering what to do with the apostles who wouldn’t shut up about Jesus, “37 … After [Theudas] Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:37-39a ESV).

It’s easy to let the names slip by – after all, the focus rightly is recognising the truth that people can’t go up against God and win. And I know that is a faith statement for those who believe in God and a delusional statement for those for whom there is no deity. Nevertheless we all make our daily decisions based on what we believe which shapes our identity and personal goals. 

And I find myself musing this Advent about an alternative history to do with this Judas the Galilean and the census because we are talking about the census when Quirinius was governor of Syria and yes, we’re in Luke chapter 2 and the Christmas story. It is hard to juggle the historical problems because our main source is the historian Josephus and he is regarded as not that reliable nevertheless Judas the Galilean opposed the census because it was for Roman taxation purposes because he opposed being taxed by Rome. He believed that God alone was the ruler of Israel. He not only urged people not to register for the census but his followers burnt the houses and stole the cattle of those known to have registered. Did Joseph and Mary discuss whether to be counted or not to be counted? Of course, we’ll never know but it is sobering to think that the years and decades prior to Jesus’ birth and throughout the first century were often marked by violence. (Herod’s response to Jesus’ birth targeting little boys 2 years old or younger may shock us but not historians and not those who live in violent and precarious times, where life is cheap.)

Our world reeks with violence – or with conflict and corruption which are often the precursors to violence. It is a blessing indeed to live in relative safety. We all want to live in relative safety and not be subject to the arbitrary decisions of those with power or the means to impose their will on others. 

Christians live where and when God places them – following the Prince of Peace whose birth we celebrate at Christmas and whose reappearance will usher in an eternal peace for those in his Kingdom. Christians live by faith that those who go up against God will not win in the end and that God even wants the most vile, the most evil, the most inept, the most corrupt to repent and follow Jesus. Christians can really struggle with that last part that those who impose their will on others, those who do evil, are still loved by the God who wants them to live with him, follow Jesus, and amend their ways. And that is why the disciples of Jesus do actively seek to make their daily decisions that promote peace and justice, that serve those whom God has placed around them, because, contrary to what it may seem, God has not abandoned this world and left it to us to wreck and ruin. But this daily decision making, this daily following Jesus isn’t easy. We so often want instant solutions. Quick fixes. Miracles. Deciding the details can be hard each day – especially when there are negative consequences or opposition – but that is part of discipleship, part of faith – behaving as we believe one day at a time – and, like those first disciples in Jerusalem, we, too, learn that Jesus never abandons us.