The Wall Street Journal publishes an editorial every Christmas Eve which was written by the late Vermont Royster in 1949. It tells the parable of Saul of Tarsus, who would become St. Paul. I’d been a casual Christian up until Christmas of last year, one I’ll never forget. Sick at home, I read this piece, and then started Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus. It was the day I realized, “hey, I really like what this guy Jesus was about!”
Royster illustrates what the world was like under the rule of Rome at the time of Jesus. There was stability, and civil order. They had their own form of police state. There was a massive redistributionist system of taxation and largess. The bread and the circuses. But also oppression–of political opponents, outsiders, and foreigners. O’Reilly’s book mentions the “Tiberius Leap”–the Caesar would throw his young sex slaves off cliffs for his own pleasure.
“Most of all, there was everywhere a contempt for human life,” writes Royster. “What, to the strong, was one man more or less in a crowded world?” Read the full piece here, it’s one of my favorite pieces of writing, ever.
Then, of a sudden, there was a light in the world, and a man from Galilee saying, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.
And the voice from Galilee, which would defy Caesar, offered a new Kingdom in which each man could walk upright and bow to none but his God. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. And he sent this gospel of the Kingdom of Man into the uttermost ends of the earth.
So the light came into the world and the men who lived in darkness were afraid, and they tried to lower a curtain so that man would still believe salvation lay with the leaders.
But it came to pass for a while in divers places that the truth did set man free, although the men of darkness were offended and they tried to put out the light. The voice said, Haste ye. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you, for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.
Along the road to Damascus the light shone brightly. But afterward Paul of Tarsus, too, was sore afraid. He feared that other Caesars, other prophets, might one day persuade men that man was nothing save a servant unto them, that men might yield up their birthright from God for pottage and walk no more in freedom.
Then might it come to pass that darkness would settle again over the lands and there would be a burning of books and men would think only of what they should eat and what they should wear, and would give heed only to new Caesars and to false prophets. Then might it come to pass that men would not look upward to see even a winter’s star in the East, and once more, there would be no light at all in the darkness.
We can easily draw parallels to the present world. In the meantime, Royster leaves us with a cautionary
passage from Galatians: Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.