5148222_sProblem: The Bible prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Jesus’s parents lived in Nazareth, about 145 kilometres away.

Solution: Use emperor Caesar Augustus’ programme for the registration of provincial citizens to get Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-7).

From Joseph’s perspective the whole thing sucked. He thought that the hard work of his life had been done. He had accepted his fiance’s pregnancy as a miraculous work of God. God should have been pleased with his decision of incredible faith. Perhaps now he could return to some sort of normalcy.

Instead here he was on the road. The traffic was horrendous. And baby was due anytime. Would they be able to find shelter when the time came? And all because the pagan conquerors wanted to register everyone so that it would be easier for them to collect their taxes. At least the Romans had exempted the Jews from military service. But paying taxes to pagans … well that really sucked. But what could he do? He was just a little man, vulnerable to larger forces beyond his control. Which is how many of us are feeling this Advent.

This is going to be another of those unchristmassy Christmases. Quite hard to focus on Yuletide cheer when we are hard pressed by circumstances beyond our control. Most of us have been affected by the global financial meltdown. Many of us have lost substantial savings. Some of us have lost our jobs. And when you think things couldn’t get worse you find yourself trapped in an airport in Bangkok. Or in a hotel in Mumbai. Of course if you live in most parts of Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Zimbabwe, or in any number of places beneath the radar of the mainstream media, it has not been christmassy for a long time. Which may be the best reason to relook at the Advent story.

The big man during the time of the birth of Jesus was the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus. Here was a person who was not buffeted byforces beyond his control. He was the force that was beyond control. His word was law. He only had to give the word and he had all his subjects on the road returning to their towns of origin to register. Here was awesome power. And Luke remands us that Caesar was just God’s office boy, used by Him to get Joseph and Mary to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

As Darrell Bock reminds us:

Luke portrays Augustus as the unknowing agent of God, whose decree leads to the fulfilment of the promised rise of a special ruler from Bethlehem … the mention of the census explains how a couple from Nazareth gave birth to a child in Bethlehem. The accidental events of history have become acts of destiny. Little actions have great significance, for the ruler was to come out of Bethlehem and only a government decree puts the parents in the right place. (Luke 1:1-9:50, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994, 203).

Sooner or later we learn that we have limited control over our lives. We are all little people living with illusions of our ability to control our present and our future. And then something happens and we realise we have little or no control over life. And then slowly, hopefully, we remember that God is in control and that He can use the most inconvenient and painful circumstances of life for His purposes.

And so this unchristmassy Christmas, we remember:

Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace. (Luke 1:78-79 NLT)

That light has come and is coming again. And while the clouds of history may obscure that light from time to time we know that the light shines as bright as ever, like the sun when it shines behind the clouds. And so we continue to “trust the Lord and do good” (Psalm 37:3) whatever our lot.

Buffeted by forces beyond your control? The Lord is in control and using everything in history to work out His perfect purposes in your life and in the world. So trust the Lord and do good. History is in safe hands, no matter how hard life may be at the moment.