We Americans, from a cultural point of view, cherish the concept of freedom so dearly that we sometimes resist the inclinations of big government. A national ID card, for instance, cannot get traction here in the States. Every tenth year we hear about folks who desire not to be counted in the census. And now that the NSA’s data-tracking mission has been unveiled, people are even more paranoid about their personal information. Every time I go to a new medical office, the registration form asks for my social security number, which I decline to give. [They are legally obligated to demonstrate why it is necessary for them to have it, and since they do not seem to have a good reason, I’d rather keep it to myself, thank you very much!] I think there is more here than rugged individualism; I believe that people desire to retain some sense of control over their lives and don’t necessarily think more government intrusion is going to help them in the long run.
Today’s meditation, for the fifth day of Christmas, revolves around another government intrusion at the direction of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. He issued a decree some time around 4 BC that everyone in his world was to be “registered.” The presumption is that the emperor was getting ready to extract new taxes and needed to identify his tax base. In Israel, the decree was organized in a tribal kind of way: each head-of-household was required to go back to his or her ancestral home village for the census. The family may have meandered through history into different geographic locations, but to be a member of the clan of David, for instance, meant returning to Bethlehem to be counted.
Joseph, now engaged to Mary who was heavily pregnant, lived in Nazareth but identified “home” as Bethlehem. Hence the uncomfortable journey south, a distance of perhaps eighty miles, probably accomplished in a caravan moving about twenty miles a day. But at the end of the road, Joseph and Mary were on their own looking for lodging in a city bursting at the seams.
Meanwhile, it was understood from the Old Testament that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem:
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)