Luke 2:1-3 (The Message)
About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.
Every ten years in the United States, we are asked to fill out a census form. Using the data collected by the census, the government calculates such things as the number of seats for the House of Representatives and funding for government programs.
Jesus was born at the time of a census called for throughout the Roman Empire. In order to expedite the data collection, the different Israelite tribes were require to assemble in their ancestral hometowns. For Joseph, this was the town of Bethlehem, where his great- (x24) grandfather David was born. This census was most probably being conducted in anticipation of a tax increase and for the purpose of enforcing military service.
This may seem like extraneous, unnecessary information for Matthew to provide to his readers. But think about it for a moment. We’ve all heard the Christmas story so many times, we could probably recite most of it by heart. But this detail reminds us that these events happened to real people. Mary and Joseph are not just characters in a pretty tale. They were flesh-and-blood people who lived at a particular time in a specific place, and who were involved in God’s plan to change the world forever.
What do you imagine the journey to Bethlehem was like for Mary and Joseph?