It was one of those simple decisions that impacted everybody. The Emperor Augustus decided that he wanted to know how many people made up the greater Roman Empire and so he ordered everyone to return to their ‘home town’ to register – he did this for two reasons – to get a definitive count of the strength of Rome but also to be able to effectively tax all of the people and raise the required revenue he intended to spend.
When you think about the challenges of displacing much of the population of several nations it makes our failed census of August 2016 not look as bad as we remember!
So this is the context in which we find the ‘Christmas Story’ taking place. Joseph and Mary travelling from Nazareth to Bethlehem not because they wanted to, but because they had been forced to…the roads were crowded, supplies were limited, accommodation was scarce but there was no choice…
We all know the story pretty well: the innkeeper offers them a place with the animals because it is all he has available; the shepherds visit after the baby is born because they have heard the angels sing… the world, for the most part, remains blissfully unaware about what has taken place… it is a series of images which endure and are recounted year by year.
But it all started with a tax…the first Christmas was destined to ‘cost’ everyone something and because of this it was not a time of joy and peace but a time of concern and frustration.
Many people still view and approach Christmas as a ‘cost’ – expensive presents, food, days off work and crowded streets and roads. As we approach the final days before the 25th I often hear people grumbling and complaining about one aspect of this crazy season or another – they focus on what it is costing them and they wonder if it is really worth it.
The fact is that the first Christmas may have coincided with a cost but it is actually all about ‘a gift’. The ‘gift’ is not the romanticised and sanitised image of the nativity but the powerful message of what really transpired that first Christmas – the Emperor want to tax the world but God in Heaven reaches down to give the world its greatest gift – He presents His only Son, to live amongst us and to show us the way to live.
So don’t just count the cost this Christmas – make certain that you recognise the wealth you have been given through the Gift of Jesus!
This Christmas I pray you will receive ‘the gift’ that waits for you!