Summary: Just as God worked in the frustration of the first Christmas, He can use our frustrations and hurts to bring peace to us and to others.
Introduction: [“12 Crazy Days of Christmas” video from Sermonspice.com]
Holiday frustration. I think that little clip sums it up pretty well. The time of year when we focus on peace, we often find very little of it. The season that is supposed to celebrate the birth of the “Prince of Pease” is more often a season of agrevation and frustration. This little video highlights “The Dark Side of Christmas” for many people in our society today.
But frustration surrounding the birth of the Messiah isn’t new and it isn’t limited to our current cultural context. As the actual events surrounding the birth of Jesus unfolded, there was more than enough frustration to go around.
Let me show you.
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Luke 2:1-7 (NIV)
That sounds pretty frustrating to me. Taking your VERY pregnant wife/betrothed on a long journey (let me tell you this isn’t always fun…you can end up stuck in Oklahoma for 6 weeks). Finding no place to stay when you arrive there. Dealing with the government and taxes. Dealing with crowds and the like. The first Christmas was shrouded in frustration.
This week, as we continue exploring “The Dark Side of Christmas” I want to look at how God will take our frustrations and out of them bring us peace…real peace.
Joseph and his very pregnant bride are required to make a trip to Bethlehem to register in the Roman Census.
It was not uncommon for Rome to take censuses for a number of reasons. The primary reason however, was to get an accurate count of the number of citizens in their empire (this was good when it came to manning an army) and for taxation purposes.
Augustus Caesar was also concerned with the birthrate of the Roman people. It was very common for men to have many mistresses and their children were not legitimate. Augustus wanted to fill Rome with legitimate Roman men, so he took a great interest in making certain that Roman men had children through their wives. One way to check the progress of this was to order a census.
In a census every man had to go to his hometown and register. There he would declare himself, his wife/wives any children, any livestock, any slaves, any land and any property he owned. This allowed Roman officials to count the people of Rome and it allowed them to place a value on all of the property held within the empire and then charge a tax to each individual based on what they owned.
This event in and of itself must have been frustrating. It meant that Joseph had to stop working for a while. It meant that he had to make a long trip. It meant that he had to leave his father’s house. It severely disrupted life. And for anyone that I know, that is a source of frustration.
Joseph and Mary would have had to make the trip to Bethlehem from Nazareth on foot or by using a beast of burden. We don’t know how they made that trip. The Bible doesn’t tell us. We have all these images of Mary riding on a donkey as Joseph leads her through the night to Bethlehem. But that is just the imagery we have given to the story through the years. The Bible says nothing about it. Most likely they DIDN’T travel at night...no sane individual traveled the roads at night for a host of obvious reasons. And we don’t know if there as a donkey, a horse, a camel or just plain ole’ feet that were involved. It’s a heartwarming idea to have Joseph leading the donkey that his pregnant wife is riding on, but the Bible doesn’t paint that picture for us…the bible doesn’t paint any picture for us.
However, we do know that it was a long journey. It is approximately 70 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem and it’s an uphill climb. Mary and Joseph would have traveled on foot (possibly with a donkey…but again we don’t know) and it would have probably taken them about a week to make that journey. Imagine the frustration and aggrevation of traveling with a woman who was nearly nine months pregnant on an uphill journey, seventy miles on foot.