Render to Caesar
Caesar is code name for whoever is in charge. Cyrus of the first reading this morning from Isiaiah, was king of Persia. He conquered the Babylonians and allowed the Israelites to return home from exile to rebuild their temple. He was Caesar as the good guy. The imperial title, Caesar, derives from the family name of Julius Caesar, perhaps the most famous Roman emperor of them all, who remains a household word. Whether you came into the world by caesarean operation; whether you are having a Caesar salad for your lunch; whether you go to the barber and ask for a Caesar cut, you are rendering to Caesar. His family name became the dynastic title for those coming after him as emperors in Rome. Caesar Augustus was next in line, and then Tiberius Caesar who was emperor when Pontius Pilate, Governor for Rome of Judea, condemned Jesus Christ to death.
And Pilate said to Jesus, “Do you not know that I have authority to release You and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered Pilate, “You would have no authority over me if it were not given to you from above’ [John 19].
In German they say Kaiser, in Russia it becomes Tsar; it doesn’t matter what they are called, Caesars are the ones who call the shots. And rendering happens without our even noticing it. Each July, for instance, we spend 31 days honouring Caesar, as this month was called after Julius. And the reason why August has 31 days also, and February only 28 days, is because his successor, Augustus Caesar, wanted the month called after him, August, to have as many days, if not more, than his illustrious predecessor. Today, let me tell you, there are only 68 more shopping days before Christmas. Forces beyond our control wind us up to a Caesar pitch. Voices deep inside say: What the hell are you doing here, when you should be at the shopping mall. There are even those who shop on Christmas day to get the best bargains for next year’s fandango.
Politicians are predicting that there will be no Christmas this year owing to Covid restrictions. Turkey farmers the world over are in a panic. Breeders plan to reduce the size of their turkeys as so few will be allowed at each Christmas dinner table. Downsizing mightn’t be a bad thing for the turkeys themselves. As Caesar prefers white to the dark, stringy, fatty meat that comes from other turkey parts, breeders have developed what they call ‘the broadbreasted white.’ By December, your perfectly realised commercial turkey should take an oval shape, something like a pathologically obese rugby football. Tiny little wings, hardly a leg to stand on, flying is quite out of the question. These turkeys can hardly walk; they are far too fat to mate, so many arrive on our tables through artificial insemination. Those advertised on the cellophane pack as ‘free range’ were probably allowed to move their necks.
The notion that Christmas won’t happen if we can’t shop, visit, party, or eat our faces off, is the ultimate reversal of the order of those ‘things’which are supposedly Caesar’s.
‘As kingfishers catch fire,’ Christ will be born this year ‘in ten thousand places’ . . . ‘lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his’ [Hopkins]. Christmas has happened and will happen with or without Covid 19; whether we have a thirty pound turkey on the table or not.
But if Christmas is to happen, it must happen for you. What matter if it takes place elsewhere, in Jerusalem, in Rome, in Grafton Street, Dublin. Wherever you are, whatever your situation is, Christmas can happen this year, perhaps more easily than ever before, in the Covid converted stable of your own heart. You are the one being asked to give birth to the love of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit. If you render to God some of this time that is God’s, that one little room of your Covid lockdown could become an everywhere.