“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.” – Luke 2:1-6 (New Revised Standard Version)
What strikes me as I once again come to this familiar passage is the contrast between the perceived newsmakers and where the action really lies. In those days, the people who would have been the attention-getters, the ones everybody considered to be the movers and shakers, the people who were thought to have power and whose actions really mattered the most – in those days, most of the world would have thought that Augustus, the Roman emperor, and to a lesser extent Quirinius, the Syrian governor, would have been the most important people in the world. They issued a decree and the rest of the world jumped into action to fulfill their decree, no matter how inconvenient it may have been.
But the way the biblical story is told, the spotlight quickly shifts away from the emperor’s courts and the governor’s mansion, and focuses instead on an expectant couple who were traveling from a little town to a small city (what we would today probably see as a little village to a small town). Two nobodies, from the empire’s perspective, whose names are Mary and Joseph, become the main actors in a story that will change the world forever. The world may be captivated by the empire’s activity, but God is at work in this unassuming couple who are carrying the Savior into the world.
Look further into the story and the contrast becomes even more stark as the spotlight shines on some shepherds on a hillside, and then on a baby born in an animal’s feeding trough, wrapped in cloths meant for lambs.
As I have traveled to dozens of charge conferences across the Alexandria District these past few months, I have done so as the daily news is focused elsewhere, usually on the various activities of our modern-day emperors and governors. The headlines blare with hyped anxiety about how important all of their pronouncements may be.
Meanwhile, I am hearing every day about the work of Christ’s people who are feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, reaching out to the lonely, seeking the lost, advocating for the left out, and through it all gathering to give glory to God in the highest and live in peace with one another in spite of our differences. I cannot help but to ponder these things in wonder. I wonder at where God’s light is shining, and how the shadows of the world are still seeking to overcome that light.
The mission and ministries of Christ’s Church are bearers of the Savior’s love into the world today as much as ever. God is still at work in the unassuming work of faithful people, regardless of where the world’s attention may be diverted. I invite us not to miss where the action really is! Amid all of the hullabaloo of the empire’s drama, the light of Jesus forever shines brightest through those who live in the strength of His love and the goodness of His mercy.
Blessed Advent and Merry Christmas,