Caesar Augustus was ruler of Rome. He called himself Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Divi Filius Imperator, and throughout the Roman Empire his subjects called him son of God and lord of all. When he gave a command it was absolute law, and when he spoke, people moved. Now it came to be that in those days Caesar Augustus sent out a dogma: Since the entire inhabited earth was his household, he wanted a headcount. So everybody in the known world had to go back where they were from and hold still long enough to be written down. Each family returned to their proper city.
That’s why a man named Joseph rose up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth way up in northern Israel, and travelled all the way down south into Judea, into the city of David that is called Bethlehem (because that was the house and the fatherhood that he was from), to be written down with Mary, the one who was betrothed to him and was already pregnant. And it came to be that in the time they were there, the days before she would bear a child were all filled up, and she bore a son, a firstborn son. But there was no room for them in the inn, so she wrapped him up and laid him down in the manger, the animals’ food-box, where animals mange or munch on hay.
It’s an odd place to put a baby. You probably don’t have a manger in your house unless you put one there for Christmas. The functional equivalent of a livestock food-trough in suburban life would be something like a dog dish. Or maybe the kitchen sink. Or a big tool box in the garage. Or a filing cabinet. If there’s no room to put a baby, and you start looking around to improvise, you might come up with the sock drawer in your dresser, or a reclining chair with some extra couch pillows.
No doubt Mary and Joseph did the best they could with a hard situation in an inhospitable world. And I’m sure the baby didn’t mind. He probably didn’t say a word. But in a world where Caesar Augustus is the one called son of God and lord of all, and everybody has to go where he tells them to, the long-promised seed of the woman, the actual son of God, the real Lord of all, was tucked away pretty much anywhere he would fit.
For my church‘s 2014 Christmas concert service, I wrote a set of 9 readings to accompany the night of songs: a Lessons and Carols service. I’m posting the lessons here at Scriptorium Daily from now until Christmas day. Banner design by Josh Kenfield.