We love the manger scene and rosy pictures of Mary riding a donkey on the way to Bethlehem. It seems so idyllic and serene. But have you ever considered how stressful and chaotic that trip might have been for Joseph and Mary? They, along with the rest of the world, were on the move because of some unexpected government orders. Traveling to Bethlehem was not part of their five year plan, and especially not while Mary was expecting the Christ Child. However, God had different plans and used an unlikely government order to accomplish it.
God needed to get Joseph and Mary out of their cozy hometown of Nazareth and to the place where He had promised the Messiah would be born, a journey of 80 dusty miles. At eight months pregnant, there was no way Joseph and Mary were considering taking a family trip and nothing short of a government decree would compel them to leave the support of family and familiarity as they anticipated Jesus’s birth. So God did the unexpected. He used the greed of an emperor to set in motion the events that started the journey of a lifetime.
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 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. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
The iconic image of Mary riding on a donkey as Joseph walks beside would never have been a reality if it were not for unexpected government orders. If Caesar Augustus had not ordered a census for which everyone needed to travel to their ancestral home, Jesus would have been born in Nazareth and the ancient prophesies would have gone unfulfilled. However, there are no “what ifs” in God’s kingdom!
God used the governing authorities of the day to accomplish His plans and purposes. But Caesar’s census didn’t just affect Mary and Joseph. The entire known world at the time scrambled to make the necessary travel arrangements and masses of people started the processes of heading home for the census. No one planned this for their year; the date to visit great-grandma’s home was not circled on their calendars. Funds for travel were not budgeted and people were not expecting to have to uproot and move their families for the year. It would have been chaotic as thousands of people sought to obey orders.
Sound familiar? Our year has been filled with one government decree after another. You must stay home; now you can venture out but only with a mask. Restaurants are open and then they’re not. The economy starts to reopen, but depending on case numbers, could be shut down at any point. During this pandemic, the world has needed to scramble to accommodate the various orders and recommendations of their governing authorities. It has caused chaos, financial hardship, relational strain, stress, anxiety, and frustration.
Now, after nine months of this, many have COVID fatigue. We’re ready to be done with this whole thing, ready to get back to “normal,” especially for the holidays. However, what if God was working behind the scenes?
During that first Christmas, God plunged the entire world into chaos to get one couple from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Thousands of people experienced stress, anxiety, marital strain, and financial hardship during Caesar Augustus’s census, but it was all part of God’s divine plan.
So what about our current Christmas landscape? Could God be doing something during the craziness of this Christmas like He did during that first one over two thousand years ago? That first Christmas was filled with stress, but it was also the backdrop for a miracle, when heaven came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. Could the pandemic be God’s context to bring about new Christmas miracles in the hearts of mankind?
The entire point for God’s orchestration of events was to get an obscure couple from point A to point B. So if we want to try and see what God is doing in 2020, we will also need to look in the hidden, obscure, and unknown places. But if we have an open mind and eyes peeled for God’s fingerprints, we just might get a glimpse into the life-changing work God is doing this Christmas.
So let’s reshape our perspective and remember that just as God was working and directing the events of that first Christmas, He is still on the throne and orchestrating the events in our lives to bring about His divine purposes.
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