The Fifth Day of Christmas: A Decree and a Prophecy Meet

December 30, 2013

We Americans, from a cultural point of view, cherish the concept of freedom so dearly that we sometimes resist the inclinations of big government. A national ID card, for instance, cannot get traction here in the States. Every tenth year we hear about folks who desire not to be counted in the census. And now that the NSA’s data-tracking mission has been unveiled, people are even more paranoid about their personal information. Every time I go to a new medical office, the registration form asks for my social security number, which I decline to give. [They are legally obligated to demonstrate why it is necessary for them to have it, and since they do not seem to have a good reason, I’d rather keep it to myself, thank you very much!] I think there is more here than rugged individualism; I believe that people desire to retain some sense of control over their lives and don’t necessarily think more government intrusion is going to help them in the long run.

Today’s meditation, for the fifth day of Christmas, revolves around another government intrusion at the direction of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. He issued a decree some time around 4 BC that everyone in his world was to be “registered.” The presumption is that the emperor was getting ready to extract new taxes and needed to identify his tax base. In Israel, the decree was organized in a tribal kind of way: each head-of-household was required to go back to his or her ancestral home village for the census. The family may have meandered through history into different geographic locations, but to be a member of the clan of David, for instance, meant returning to Bethlehem to be counted.

Joseph, now engaged to Mary who was heavily pregnant, lived in Nazareth but identified “home” as Bethlehem. Hence the uncomfortable journey south, a distance of perhaps eighty miles, probably accomplished in a caravan moving about twenty miles a day. But at the end of the road, Joseph and Mary were on their own looking for lodging in a city bursting at the seams.

Meanwhile, it was understood from the Old Testament that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem: 

            But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
                        who are one of the little clans of Judah,
            from you shall come forth for me
                        one who is to rule in Israel,
            whose origin is from of old,
                        from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)

We have no indication from Luke’s text that Joseph and Mary had connected dots and seen their migration to Bethlehem as anything but fulfillment of a civic duty. And yet, we readers can’t help but see the connection in retrospect, which many years later slowly dawned on Jesus’ contemporaries: “Has not the Scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” (John 7:42). All this is to say, God has used the movements of history, the whims of despots, and even geography to accomplish his will. In this case, what would move this couple, at such an inconvenient time, to travel to a little town and give birth in a strange place? It wasn’t going to be their idea, right? It took an act of a godless emperor to make it happen.

When we get frustrated with circumstances that seem out of our control, one way of looking at them is to see how God moved us into new places we never would have travelled otherwise. For me, the idea entering the world of cancer and its treatment was the farthest from my mind and dead last on my bucket list. If God had a mission for me in this world, he would have to get me here; and he did. All that is required of me in this new location is to keep my eyes on the Lord, follow the path despite the discomforts, and live into my Spirit-empowered commitment to represent Jesus wherever I am at the moment. The bigger scheme of things is in God’s hands, but I can rest assured that I am in the right place at the right time to do the right thing for the right reasons. I am free, to a certain degree, to make choices in this new place; but being here is not optional and I, American or not, have to get over the protest that God has intruded in my life. What a laugh, to think this is my life anyway. May the Lord continue to help me see my existence as a “living sacrifice” offered in worship to my Creator and Lord every single day!

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

 

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2 Responses to “The Fifth Day of Christmas: A Decree and a Prophecy Meet”

  1. houstonhodges Says:

    “…seeing the connection in retrospect…” Yes! “Coincidence is just a term for God incognito,” I wish I’d said first.

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