A census made it happen.
But who ordered that census?
There’s more than meets the eye. It’s a pivotal event in the familiar Christmas story that continues to fascinate.
The practical question, of course, is: How to get a pregnant woman from Nazareth of Galilee to Bethlehem of Judea? (This was a journey of at least 109 km, fraught with difficulties and danger.)
Call for Grab or book a ComfortDelgro taxi?
Sorry, we are talking about 2,000 years ago, so a donkey might have been a better bet.
Okay … might as well go to the very top. So, right at the pinnacle in fabled Rome, to which all roads lead, sat Caesar Augustus, the first emperor. Plant an idea in his head. Make him issue an edict to tax his subjects. (Does he really need help on this?) State coffers were probably empty or low after years of warfare. The dragnet must miss no one. All in the entire Roman world to be registered and taxed.
One man’s decision to sign a tax bill triggered a mass movement of people in the Mediterranean world. One person who could not be denied: Caesar, Mister Big himself. But he was only a bit player in the greater picture that was emerging. Supreme as he might seem, he was just a tool in God’s hand. At the edge of his empire, sometimes considered a rebellious frontier territory, the greatest story ever told was unfolding. God was saving the world, and it started with a baby.
For a moment, let your imagination take flight and convey you to an Imperial marble triclinium in Roman classical style, where you overhear a conversation. The speakers are still lucid in the midst of their Bacchanalian revelry. The meal is largely over but the drinking never ends. Emperor Augustus indicates to his COO – Chief Operations Officer – with a flick of an imperious finger that an order is coming his way. (Note the brevity of the conversation – it’s often one-sided.)
Pardon, sir. You mean a number?
People or livestock, sir?
Yes sir, got it. But they’re all over the empire. Will they stop moving long enough to be counted?
Simple – send them all home. Everyone back to where they came from.
Brilliant, sir. That should do the trick. Who would have thought of that? Once again, sir – did you say
Every single one.
Even the pregnant?
Read my lips.
Terrific, sir, what wisdom, what strategy. (Note to self: What a heap of work!).
And so, it came to pass – “Everyone to his own city.” (Lk 2:3) Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He had to be, as prophesied and promised in Micah 5:2. Bethlehem was the hometown of Joseph, because he was of the lineage of David. Anywhere else and Scripture would not be fulfilled.
That head count provided the momentum. All in God’s good time and purpose. No Shakespearean plots needed. Just a decree.
Keep the main thing the main thing: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” (Lk 2:11)
The scale was huge. People returned to “catch up” with family, relatives and neighbours. Homes were full – severe overcrowding. Safe distancing was suspended. That explains the “no place for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7). As Pastor Michael Van Sloun expressed it: “Mary and Joseph went off to a stable or cave, off by themselves, off alone. No space was reserved for Jesus when he came. There was no hospitality, no welcome.”
That Augustine census must have yielded some big numbers. But we’re not told what. Maybe some data analysis would yield interesting findings. Even today, there’s much to learn from census data. Provided, we wish to learn. We can see trends and trajectories, what’s likely to come and what’s over. Remaining relevant and making meaningful contributions as we seek to serve our Father as light, salt and aroma in this world.
And keep the main thing the main thing: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” (Lk 2:11)
Can He count on you?
Dr Andrew Goh is the editor of Impact magazine.
VOL. 45 NO. 6 of IMPACT Magazine
THE NONES HAVE IT... Is it a cause for concern? by Mathew Mathews
SHARING FAITH, MAINTAINING HARMONY... Census findings and implications by Tan Ern Ser
WE'RE DIFFERENT, WE'RE THE SAME by David W F Wong
HEART AND HOPE... An interview with Millennials
THE NUMBERS ADD UP... But do we have the answers?
~ The IMPACT Panel Responds ~
A CHILD OF OUR TIME... By Mark Tan