If you had met Joseph and Mary on the road to Bethlehem on that fateful evening two thousand years ago, you would not have guessed that they were anything special. They had no haloes shining around their heads, no sticker on the donkey (if they had one) reading “Parents of Messiah,” or Mary wearing a T shirt that read “Messiah inside.” They were just an ordinary couple, one of many having to travel back to their home-towns to register, in compliance with the latest government policy — same old, same old. They were just another smelly, grimy couple making a journey that couldn’t have come at a worst time. Mary was well along in her pregnancy. I can just imagine the baby kicking a lot, and Mary saying: “Sorry Joseph, I have to go again,” all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a ninety mile journey. A tough journey.
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:1-7 NIV)
But the child Mary was carrying was special. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, the Messiah had indeed come. But apart from Joseph and Mary, no one knew the significance of the baby, that with His coming, God had entered human history in a special way, that He would make all things right again. All we saw was a couple, the woman heavy with child, struggling on the road to Bethlehem. Once again the Lord does marvellous things and nobody is the wiser. In a time when for most people, God was apparently absent and life was harsh, God was busily at work, ensuring that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem in fulfilment of prophecy (Micah 5:1-2), setting into motion His plan to save the world. I like the way Darrell L. Bock puts it:
Luke portrays Augustus as the unknowing agent of God, whose decree leads to the fulfillment of the promised rise of a special ruler from Bethlehem (Mic. 5:1-2) . . .
In addition to the historical connection, 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 governmental decree puts the parents in the right place. (Darrell L. Bock, Luke, Volume 1, 1:1 – 9:50, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994, 203)
How do you feel as we count down 2010? Tired? Confused? Worse? Feeling that you are buffeted by forces way beyond your control? How has the year been? Not sure what God was up to? The soundtrack of your life bereft of rhyme or reason? Ditto Joseph and Mary two thousand years ago. And see how things turned out. As we see Joseph and Mary trudging along, we remember, again, that God is at work. Indeed God is always at work. Jesus says as much in John 5:17 when He tells us that His Father is always working. But here’s the thing — He is not obliged to show you what He is up to. He calls us to trust Him.
I am typing this column on Christmas eve, no time for reflection, at least not yet. It has been a demanding year and I feel it. Indeed the year ends with fresh challenges. Feeling tired. But tonight I look at Joseph and Mary wearily making their way to Bethlehem and I remember what awaits at the end of that journey. And I smile. “The accidental events of history have become acts of destiny. Little actions have great significance . . .” God is at work. I smile.
Blessed Christmas my friends!!