In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. Luke 2:1.
Of course, this text reminds me of the hype over Canada’s recent decision to make the long form census voluntary and remove jail time for those who refused to fill it out. Opposition complained this would undermine accuracy, as though coercion ensured it. In our time when convenience or just plain cussedness trumps truth, census accuracy can’t be guaranteed.
Joseph and Mary didn’t have the choice. The self-styled god Caesar could exact dire penalties for refusal to co-operate. Thousands probably travelled to their ancestral homes to register; the edict was for all the Roman world. So Joseph with Mary, now his wife and close to delivery of her firstborn, made the arduous journey to Bethlehem.
How did Mary cope with this? With some difficulty, I am sure. Did she really have a donkey as many pictures suggest, or did she walk all the way? And when she arrived, no place to sleep and bear her child but a stable? Beyond the physical endurance necessary, did she wonder if she was mistaken in believing God was orchestrating all this?
After all, if this was God’s Messiah in her womb, surely He could have arranged for a smoother pregnancy. Perhaps move the census to later, and leave them at home for more comfort; or some other easier alternative. From what we know of Mary, I’m sure she bore the hardships with great patience. Besides which, in her devotion to God she would have known the Scriptures.
If Herod could find Messiah’s birthplace, Mary would have known it. She would recognize this exhausting trip to Bethlehem as part of God’s plan. Knowing He traveled with her, she would have strength for it. In addition, sufficient Scriptures pointed to His coming as one who would be “despised and rejected”; the stable was an appropriate entry point.
Of course, we do not have Mary’s detailed map for our lives. Without precise reasons for our adversity it’s difficult to find meaning in it, and even if I’d had Mary’s assurance, I would still have doubted along the way. Bumps in the road regularly occur that can make us doubt our sanity, if not the Scriptures.
But when all else seems awry, the promises of God stand secure. We may not know the details, but we can be sure of the outcome. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28), and “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20).
Sometimes, we simply have to cling to His promises in raw faith as beneath it all we know we can trust Him. "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).