Luke 2:1-7

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.

Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:1-7

How fitting is it that this text should pop up for us on a Friday morning in November? The birth of Jesus has become so wrapped up in layers of tradition that is threatens to lose the element of surprise. And surprise is central to this story and everything that happens after it.

The story turns on a governmental decree that all should return to their hometowns so a census can be taken. This too takes on some ironic connections as we read it today.

The much beleaguered 2020 census of the United States is still up in the air. It began amid controversy about “who should count” in the count. Until 2020, the answer was simple: Everybody should be counted based on their “usual residence.” That has always included citizens, non-citizen legal residents, non-citizen long-term visitors and undocumented immigrants. But that was seriously challenged in 2020 by the sneaky insertion of a question about citizenship, knowing full well such a question would discourage some people from responding to the census at all. Why? Because there were those who didn’t want “outsiders” to be counted.

That puts a whole new spin on seeing that Jesus was put in a manger because “there was no room for them in the inn.”

The way Luke tells the story, Mary and Joseph are forced by governmental decree to travel back to Joseph’s family’s hometown. Again, this story is carefully constructed to connect Jesus to the house of David. There is conflict here between the long lost authority of David and the current iron hand of the emperor.

That too is interesting to read these days. All over the United States, anticipating the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, governmental authorities are struggling with how to respond to the rapidly increasing threat of Covid 19. Rather than being about working together to mitigate the effects of a pandemic, in some corners these struggles are being rejected as governmental overreach and the death of individual liberty.

Joseph did what the government told him to do. He freely cooperated. Nothing in the story suggests that Joseph struggled with his conscience or felt coerced into taking the trip.

This time around, the suggestion is to stay home rather than to travel. Why? To minimize the spread of the virus. To protect overburdened hospitals. To save lives.

What would Jesus do in the midst of all of this? As always, answering that question is best done by looking back at what Jesus did. So far, he welcomed the warmth of the rags in which he was wrapped and he slept comfortably in the manger. His adults might have been overwhelmed with fatigue, anxiety, and worry. But his birth brought them joy and peace. My guess is that they slept soundly too.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you were born among us and we made no room for you. We were too wrapped up in all of our adult business to see you wrapped up in rags. Our vision was too high to see such a lowly birth. Born amidst a census, you continue to bring a whole new meaning to the idea that everyone counts. For that we give you our thanks and praise. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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