While I unpacked Christmas decorations last year, I found a stranger in a terra cotta nativity set. Tucked away with the familiar characters and tiny animals was a figure of a little girl, kneeling. How did she get here? I wondered.
I laid the little girl aside as I began to arrange the other characters. The question stayed with me, though. Because I knew the Christmas story inside and out, it always seemed inevitable, but in some ways it's just strange. How did such an odd assemblage of people get to Bethlehem that night so long ago? And what do their stories tell us about the way God works?
The family way
Luke 2 tells us that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus told them to. Caesar wanted to know how many taxpayers and potential soldiers he had at his command, and the best way to count them all was to herd them into their ancestral hometowns. It was easier than sending census-takers to every corner of the empire.
Even though Luke doesn't tell us if Mary rode a donkey, or if it was cold, or if the couple traveled alone, Luke's account says a lot about Mary and Joseph. They headed to Bethlehem because they belonged to the line of David—the royal line. All Israelites knew about David's great kingdom and God's promise to restore it one day. Oppressed by the Romans and gossiped about by their neighbors, Mary and Joseph still could hold their heads high. They carried the honor of their family.1