When Luke gave his account of the birth of Jesus, he gave us some historical context. It happened during the time of Caesar Augustus, who was the emperor of the Roman Empire.
Augustus had taken compete control over the Roman Empire by conquering Mark Antony and Cleopatra’s forces, and shortly thereafter, he became the first Emperor of Rome. He would flex his powers in many ways , including bringing peace to Rome, as his reign marked the beginning of the Pax Romana.
But what he didn’t know was that an even greater King was about to be born. And that though he was in control of the Roman Empire, there was a greater hand at work.
Augustus ordered that a census be taken of the entire Roman world, probably for tax purposes. With one snap of his fingers, his subjects all had to leap and go back to their hometowns to register.
One wonders what Joseph and Mary thought. We always assume that Mary was in her ninth month of pregnancy when the decree came, but we don’t know that. It may have been earlier. But if true, I suspect that it wasn’t that much earlier because if it had been, there probably would have been time to find a better place to stay than in a cave, which was probably where Joseph and Mary had to go (contrary to all our images of a nice, clean stable).
Joseph must have wondered, “Why now, God? Why didn’t you work things out so she could be more comfortable?”
But God knew what he was doing. On a lesser note, it probably got Mary and Joseph out of a very uncomfortable situation in Nazareth where rumors were no doubt flying around concerning Mary’s pregnancy, because they were not yet married.
On a more important note, though, through this census, Jesus was forced to be born in Bethlehem, fulfilling the prophesy of Micah (5:2).
Though Augustus thought he was in control, it was God who truly was in control. And while Augustus helped set up a peace that continued for roughly 200 years, eventually all he helped build crumbled.
But through Jesus, God started a kingdom that continues to this day and will have no end. No man, no woman, and no kingdom, will be able to overthrow it. And when all is said and done, there will be a true peace in this world that will never be broken again.
How about you? Do you think that you are in control? Of your own life if nothing else? Remember that there is Someone bigger than you are. And if your life is based solely on your wisdom and your efforts, it will eventually crumble.
Do you sometimes wonder if God is in control? Do you wonder why God allows things to happen as they do? Continue to trust in him. Because he’s working things out according to a plan that we can’t always see. And in the end, all creation will see it.
On that day, as the angels cried out at Jesus’ birth, all will say,
Glory to God in the highest heaven,and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests. (Luke 2:14)