Every five years, the Roman government conducted a census. Each man in the empire was required to return to where he was born, along with his family, in order for the population count to be as accurate as possible. This is something the Romans had done for six centuries, and it also ensured people were paying their fair share of taxes. And as Luke wrote in chapter two of his account:
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 their 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. (Luke 2:1–5)
It’s about 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and we can guess it took Mary and Joseph a week to get there. So we have this couple, the young lady expecting a baby any day, traveling a week in the mountains of Judea—a very inconvenient time for a required census.
But this journey was part of a much bigger story that began many years before involving this little town of Bethlehem, or it’s sometimes referred to as “The City of David,” since King David was born there around a thousand years prior. It’s also referred to by the Hebrew word Ephrath, meaning fertile.
About 700 years before Jesus, the prophet Micah made it known that a future ruler over all Israel would be coming from Bethlehem.
But you, Bethlehem Ephrath,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.
So a ruler is coming, he’ll be from Bethlehem, and it’s going to be someone with a significant lineage. We don’t know if Micah had any idea of the importance of this prophecy—that he could have very well been speaking about the Savior of the world who would be born in Bethlehem. But think about how two things are happening at once: On one side, we have this miraculous birth about to happen in a town that was predicted hundreds of years prior. At the same time, we have a young couple simply doing what they were supposed to: traveling to their designated town to take part in a census.
By this point, Mary and Joseph had both heard from God through angels. Both of them had come to believe that the baby Mary was carrying was the long-awaited Messiah. However, in the midst of trying to be obedient, they encountered one hurdle after another. As if being in the third trimester of pregnancy wasn’t hard enough, a census was issued that required them to travel. Talk about bad timing! And then, when they arrive in Joseph’s hometown, there are no accommodations available. Seriously? This couple is trying to do the right thing, but they are not catching a break. This is a great example of why it’s not a good idea to view our circumstances as indicators of God’s faithfulness. We look at God’s faithfulness as something that happens amid circumstances, sometimes in spite of them. He’s ever present and always with us.
While we may never know how God is working through us in the grand scheme of things, it’s our job to persevere—to press on. Maybe you’re in a season where your circumstances feel overwhelming. Maybe it seems like there are a lot of things happening at once, most of them inconvenient. Do the next right thing, knowing God is with you and is at work.
Heavenly Father, thank you for showing us over and over how you use ordinary circumstances and people to accomplish your extraordinary purposes. Help us trust in your plans for the future, even when the future is not clear. May we, like Mary and Joseph, be obedient to do the next right thing. Amen.
Every five years, the Roman government conducted a census. Each man in the empire was required to return to where he was born, along with his family, in order for the population count to be as accurate as possible.