“And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.”
Many Christmas pageants and nativity stories have begun at the same place where Luke begins: “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered...” Hearing this story as a child, it seemed like an incidental detail that Caesar was having a census. I assumed that this backdrop of the Christmas story was simply the setting that comes before the show, an unimportant detail similar to me telling you that I am writing this while I sit in a coffee shop. But the more I read and reflect upon the Christmas story, I see God in the details of Caesar’s census.
This setting is what brings us to Bethlehem at Christmas. The prophet Micah foretold of Jesus’ birth being in Bethlehem... “But you, O Bethlehem... shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2). However, the significance of Jesus’ birth place was more than the mere location of this little Judean town; the significance of Bethlehem is who this city is know for... Bethlehem is the hometown of David, the second king of Israel, the one to whom God made a promise that from his offspring would come a ruler whose house, kingdom, and throne would be established forever (2 Samuel 7:16).
Joseph, Mary’s fiance, was of the house and lineage of David, meaning that he and Mary had to make the 80 mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to registered in David’s hometown. It doesn’t seem to be the most conventional thing for a woman who is in her last stages of pregnancy to make this 80 mile trip to her fiance’s hometown... all because Caesar Augustus issued a decree that all the world be registered. However, this trip to Bethlehem was more than a civil responsibility; it was a divine appointment for the birthplace of the promised descendent of David, the one we celebrate at Christmas, Jesus Christ our Savior.
Joseph was more than the fiance of Jesus’ mother; he was the man who connects David with Jesus, Nazareth with Bethlehem, a seemingly incidental census with a reason to celebrate. God brings us to the hometown of David, as unconventional as the journey may seem, to bring us a Savior who is Christ the Lord.
So with Christmas less than a week away, I pray that as we read and sing of that little town of Bethlehem that we would be reminded of God’s hand at work in the details. During Advent, we celebrate the reality that God is not distant and uninvolved in our lives, but he came to us... He cares about the details of our lives.
The birthplace of Christ in David’s hometown is not just a detail.
It’s a reason to celebrate.
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"May those who fear you rejoice when they see me, for I have put my hope in your word." Psalm 119:74