God works in the lives of individuals, and the Christmas drama teaches us how he works. In this drama so far, we learned that God sets the stage, getting things ready for whatever he has planned for us (act 1). We also see that God prepares his people, getting them ready to participate in his plans (act 2). But God is more than a Boy Scout calling people to “be prepared,” he calls us to get moving. This brings us to act 3: “Getting Into Position.”
Of the four Gospels, Luke alone records the census called for by Caesar Augustus. This census was not a common occurrence. And unlike in the Unites States, where the census is taken for the purpose of counting the people, Augustus’ census was so he could tax the people. Even at the time of Christ’s birth, the government tried to find ways to take the people’s money.
In order to register for the census, each individual was required to return to their familial home town, even if they did not live there. For Joseph and Mary, both of whom are from the line of David, this required they register in Bethlehem. Thus, they were forced by government edict to travel south from Nazareth about sixty miles while Mary was about nine months pregnant.
Luke does not record that the two bemoaned the trip, though they probably didn’t look forward to it. They certainly didn’t blame God. Instead,
4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. (vv. 4-5, NASB)
Prophecy stated that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (cf. Micah 5:2), yet Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, far from the city of David. Something had to happen to get them to the right place. Once again, God divinely acts so that they would be in Bethlehem at the right moment.
God used Caesar Augustus, a non-believing foreign ruler over the Jews, to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. This was not the only instance of God doing such things. Ezra records that God used Cyrus, another non-believing foreign ruler over the Jews, to do the Lord’s work (cf. Ezra 1:1-4). Neither Cyrus nor Augustus were aware they were being used by God. Nevertheless, God used these two men to accomplish his purposes. God used them to move the people into position.
In the case of Augustus, God led him to not only call for an uncommon census, but also to require people register in their hometowns. He didn’t need people to travel throughout Israel just to tax them, it wasn’t necessary to register in one’s native city to pay taxes, yet Augustus required this. Why? Because God was using him! God used Augustus to get Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, to get the people into position. The couple had to work hard to make the journey, but God provided for them!
The third act of the Christmas drama shows us that when God asks us to do something, and we willingly obey, God will find a way to get us to where we need to be. This doesn’t mean getting wherever God sends us will be easy. The trip may be treacherous. It may be life-endangering, a financial struggle, physically draining, or emotional difficult. But however easy or hard the journey may be, God will provide the way for you to get there.
Are you willing to trust Jesus with your life? Will you do the work necessary to obey him? What has he asked you to do for him? Whatever it is, be willing to go and trust that God will get you there. You may have to work hard and struggle, but as Jesus promised, he will be with us always (Matt 28:20).
Next: Act 4: The Birth