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.
Luke sets the scene with some logistical details here – there’s the registration, Emperor Augustus and Governor Quirinius, Nazareth and Bethlehem, and Joseph’s extended family. If we put ourselves in Mary’s shoes for a moment – nine months pregnant and probably dealing with terrible census traffic – it’s easy to fill out the picture a bit further and feel the weight of those logistics. I’ve driven on I-95 during the holidays while pregnant and I can easily imagine that this was no easy trip for Mary. Tired, road-weary, aching feet and back, and questionable accommodations – it feels like the modern Christmas season!
And then: Christ, the Messiah, born into the world to save us.
Every year, many of us face an annual struggle to see past the logistics of the journey – the shopping, cooking, decorating, office holiday parties, and pageants. Sometimes, it is not until we stand with candles in hand on Christmas Eve singing Silent Night that we are able to set those things aside and make space in our hearts for the arrival of Christ.
Reading this passage in Luke makes me wonder what this season was like for Mary and how she faced such daunting logistics. Was she overwhelmed and harried by the time she reached Bethlehem? Did her deep faith bring her peace along the way? Was she exasperated to be waddling toward a stable as she went into labor? Did the grace of her anticipation carry away all other concerns?
Heavenly Father, as we find ourselves just a few short days away from Christmas, help us to make room in our hearts for the arrival of your Son. Help us, as we wait in lines or in traffic, to be waiting for Christ. Help us to remember Mary and all those who are weary, far from home, or without basic comforts. Help us, while we are still on the journey, to anticipate its end and to be always celebrating Christ’s coming into the world.