In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Happy Christmas! I’m writing in September, before I’ve seen (and complained about) anything surrounding Christmas appearing in the shops. The thing about writing for Daily Devotions is that it’s hard to write into the national or international context when we prepare them ahead like this. By the time you read this, the COP talks will have happened in Glasgow; you will know what’s happening to Covid during the winter; and all sorts of painful, and joyful things may well have happened in our individual and mutual lives. On the other hand, Luke is, here, writing absolutely into context and on multiple levels.
Luke reminds us of the Roman rule: this is not just a dating exercise at a time when calendars were not the fixed things they are today. This is the reality of the world and the nation into which Jesus was born, and Jesus and his family has to comply with the government that wants to record in order to tax so that one oppression (the forced census) is leading to further oppression (crippling taxation).
Luke has prepared us for this birth, telling us of the visits of angels, the shock of prospective parents and of the songs that were sung to rejoice in the (expectation of) birth. This portion of the story does not actually make a statement about Jesus – it just tells us, it was like this, a baby was born to a young mother – something both ordinary in its every-day-ness, and wonderful in its new-life-ness. We have to read on to discover the gloriousness of the incarnation-creating meaning of the birth. As every baby of that era, Jesus was born into the reality of oppression – as the babies of the refugee camps, or those born on the road as a mother flees Afghanistan or elsewhere. As a new life, this baby has a fragile existence in a time when infant mortality was far more common, so that his health and survival was something wonderfully to be rejoiced in. But Luke is, at this point, very quiet about the en- flesh-ing of the Christ.
Yet realities that surround Jesus’ birth are international and national in significance – Jesus is born onto the world stage (as it was known at the time). Jesus was also born into ordinary humanity. The way Luke tells this story layers these different significances carefully.
As we celebrate the Christ-mas day, let’s remember these layers of meaning: that Christ has come is good news for the earth, for the nations, and for each one of us. We give thanks!
For every child born today, we give thanks. For the children who will grow up under oppressive governments or in poverty, we offer our prayers. Hold, O God, the young mothers who give birth and raise their children with little support and all parents who struggle to provide. May Earth hear the song of the angels proclaiming good news, may the nations hear the challenge of Luke’s critique of power, may each of us see, in the birth of a child, the hope and the love, and the promises of justice and grace swaddled in the manger of our own lives. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Rosalind Selby, Principal, Northern College Manchester