back to Mainly for the Weary & Perplexed
The Roman Empire was too big for her to manage on her own so she developed a system of "client kings" which meant that subjugated kingdoms would have rulers appointed by Rome; rulers who would keep the Roman peace and send the huge taxes on time if they were to continue in office. (Daniel 2:40-43 and 11:39 speak to that, I believe.)
So Joseph and Mary headed for Bethlehem. It all reads like a pleasant little story but behind the brief words and the well-known script there is uprootedness, serious inconvenience, oppression, national humiliation, weariness and experiences such as a lot of genuine asylum seekers experience. Mary is heavily pregnant and by the time she gets to Bethlehem the mother of our Lord Jesus is more than ready; a cattle-shed, a feeding trough and there he is.
Had the decree been given six months later maybe they'd have been to Bethlehem and back and her baby would have born in Galilee; six months earlier and she would have carried the baby with her to Bethlehem. How did it happen that the Emperor sent out the decree just at the right time? God looked at his big watch and said: Time! Explain how we will all the mass of details that must dove-tail for any event to take place including this one; but in the end, the decree was given because God said it was time. Chesterton was right; the sun doesn't come up in the morning because the earth spins this way or that but because God says: Get up!
Why did it have to be Bethlehem? It was David's birthplace. Yes, but why did it have to be David's birthplace? The prophet said it would be. Yes, but why did the prophet say it would be? In the end, because God said: So it shall be!
Insist—and so we should—that people do what they want to do, that they have their shrewd schemes, flex their muscles, control the armies and hand out orders. Say all these things because they're true; but say this also, that in and through all that God gets his way and as surely as Jesus was born in Bethlehem, God is the Lord of history.
It's easy for believers to believe that while reading a text of scripture, an ancient story but "the facts" sometimes just get right in your face and snarl "rubbish"! And if we are to find peace at all (and some of us don't, all our lives through) it will not come in our being able to figure out how this brutal fact or series of facts or this brutal life can be smoothed into a sweet story. If we're to find peace at all it will only come because we have come to believe there really is someone "in charge" and he has made a commitment to the human family—us included.
The crisis in the book of Esther comes to mind—read it. It just happened that on the critical night that the king couldn't sleep, that he was in the mood to read, that he took down the right scroll and read the right piece and just at that moment the right man was heading for the palace and…
The more ancient crisis in Egypt comes to mind. The pharaoh is killing off the baby boys for he wants no leader or troops to arise in Israel. After a weary day of reports and meetings with his advisors he goes home to tell his wife and daughter how silly these Jews are to say that their God controlled the world. Then he takes his adopted grandson on his knee—Moses. The only boy in the world he needed to kill and God has him protecting and educating him.
Yes, yes, all very interesting and then we turn to life and there are the stubborn "facts". We should believe and accept stubborn facts.
Which ones do we have in mind?
Do they include an ancient decree for a census, a baby in a feeding trough and an 8th century BC prophet?