The Roman Emperor Augustus ruled from 27 B.C.E. to 14 C.E. At the time of the birth of Jesus, Palestine had been under Roman occupation for about 100 years. The Roman government exploited the people, who hoped for a leader who would bring justice and peace. “The world” referred to in verse 1 is the Roman empire. The Gospel writer Luke is both historian and preacher. Luke is intent on locating the story of salvation amidst specific times, places, and events of history. Salvation is God at work in history; history is the realm of God’s activity.
In a corner of a colony of the Roman empire comes the birth of a child. While emperor and military governor exercise power, an engaged couple travel, despite her pregnancy, to obey the emperor’s decree. While world events transpire, God’s messengers visit shepherds in their fields. The birth of the Savior comes in a specific historical time and place to turn the world upside down. The focus is on angels rather than on an emperor, on God’s messengers rather than on imperial decree, on a newborn child rather than on obedience to the colonial power, on a manger in a stable in a small town rather than on a palace or grand house in a capital city. In the Roman world, the emperor was understood to be God’s designated leader. Indeed, the emperor was himself considered divine. For Luke, the new child whose birth proclaims peace is God’s chosen leader, “the Messiah” or Christ, which means “anointed.”
The center of world events is not necessarily Rome or Jerusalem or any world capital or other seat of worldly power. The center of world events is where God is bringing peace and salvation for all people. God’s actions are not remote. Heaven and earth are not far from each other. Angels from heaven speak to shepherds in the fields. The Messiah is a human child.