Summary: The story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem is familiar that there is a danger that we become anethetised. It will only become a reality in our lives as we leave the balcony and let the rubber hit the road.
The Journey to Bethlehem
The Family Service team decided that they wanted me to speak on the familiar story of Joseph and Mary’s Journey to Bethlehem.
The story is two thousand years old. So we might be tempted to view simply as a nice story!! Or put another way - to view it from the balcony.
What do I mean by that?
Story: When Maddy and I were living in Switzerland, we had a holiday house on the main road in Oberegg. And that house had a balcony overlooking that road.
The road could get quite busy in the summer and from time to time we would sit on that balcony and watch the road. We would see what was going on, but as long as we were on the balcony, it was simply an intellectual exercise.
We could sit on the balcony and look at the road – and the people travelling on it – but it had no effect on our lives.
The road was only of any use to us if we were to leave the balcony and go down and use the road.
So it is with this morning’s Scripture. It will only be of use to us, if we take the time to travel down the road to Bethlehem.
Of course we will start from the balcony by considering two questions
1. When did Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem
2. Why did they go to Bethlehem and
But unless we answer the third question
3. What does it mean to us that they went to Bethlehem?
it will be no more than an academic exercise
The road will only be of any use to us when we leave the balcony and start walking. Because symbolically the road to Bethlehem is the road that leads to Jesus.
1. When did they go to Bethlehem
Mary and Joseph set out from Galilee – from Joseph’s home town of Nazareth. It wasn’t a great time to go, because his fiancée Mary was heavily pregnant with their first child.
Scripture records that it was at the time when Augustus was the Roman Emperor (BC 31-AD 14).
Luke gives us more detail. They travelled when Quirinius was Governor of Syria.
For many years people thought Luke had muddled up his dates because Quirinius was governor of Syria from AD6-7.
However, an inscription was found in Tivoli that showed that he had been Governor between BC 7 and BC 2. And so the Census is generally reckoned to have taken place in about 3-2BC .
2. Why did Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem
St Luke records that they went to Bethlehem to be taxed - because Joseph was a Bethlehemite.
Caesar had ordered all the folk to be taxed in their home towns.
Story: This concept of a legal home town may be a bit of an anomaly to most of us.
For most of us consider our home town to be where we were brought up in.
But not so in Switzerland. In Switzerland – you are citizens of your town of origin, regardless of where you are living or were brought up. You are therefore only Swiss because you belong to your home town.
I became Swiss in 1994 as a result of being married to a Swiss – Maddy. When I became Swiss I was granted citizenship not of the town I lived in but of Maddy’s village of origin.
I became and Maddy was a citizen of Greifensee - even though neither of us has ever lived there. We are not citizens of Riehen, where Maddy had lived most of her life and where she was brought up.
Back to the story.
The Emperor ordered everyone to go and be taxed in their town of origin.
On the face of it, Mary and Joseph made the journey because the Emperor ordered it. But was that the only reason?
I would like to suggest that the journey back to
Bethlehem was in the overall plan of God for Jesus.
For we read in the prophet Micah, who lived about 720 years before Jesus:
“But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to me The one to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from old from everlasting” (Micah 5:2)
Micah prophesied that Jesus would come from Bethlehem.
Sometimes we think things happen in our lives that are simply coincidences. But I am sure you can all look back at several incidences in your lives and se the hand of God in them.
3. So what does this story mean to us today?
Is there are relevance to me that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem?
The shepherds, in our second reading responded to the call of the angels – and came to Jesus in Bethlehem.