Scripture reading: Luke 2:1–5
Emperor Augustus (Luke 2:1) was really Octavius, the grandnephew of Caesar Augustus. But Augustus had adopted the young Octavius and given him rights to the name. In these five verses that precede the account of the birth of the baby, Luke sets the historical scene. In the ancient world, a census was taken primarily for purposes of taxation. When the political situation is fluid and census-taking irregular, such a registration arouses disquiet. People wonder how their lives will change, and they seldom expect the change to be good.
It is an ominous atmosphere. Luke reminds the reader of the political power of Caesar Augustus, to whom Joseph and Mary—and all the world—are subject. The parents have no choice but to go as bidden at this vulnerable time in their lives. We sometimes sentimentalize birth, forgetting that many births throughout history and around the globe result in death for mother or baby or both. These parents are not in control. In fact, they have no choice about making this risky journey at this time. No matter how close to the end of her pregnancy this very young first-time mother is, she and Joseph must leave home and travel south, through rugged country and without the extraordinary financial resources that would enable them to buy lodging in an overcrowded city.
Gracious and merciful God:
You were present with the holy family,
guiding and protecting the child yet to be born
and the strong and frightened, trusting and vulnerable parents.
So, too, be present with the refugees of our own world,
those fleeing war and oppression,
strong and fearful, trusting and vulnerable,
with children and with babies yet to be born.
Fill us with compassion, that we might make room in the stable,
bind up their wounds, and open our hearts
from this day forward.
In the name of the lowly child,
Saviour of the world, Amen.