Advent 12: A Long Time ago in Bethlehem


The Roman Emperor, Augustus, decreed that a Census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire (Luke 2.1) and as a result Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem.

Hundreds of years before this, God said that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5.2)

So how did this work?

Was Jesus born in Bethlehem because of the will of Augustus or the will God?

Did God somehow make Augustus call for a census or did Augustus choose to have a census of his own free will?

Given that God spoke through Micah several hundred years before Augustus was even born, it is clear that this is all ultimately part of His plan. The Birthplace of the Messiah was God’s choice and yet Augustus made a decree and the end result of this was that Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem when Jesus was born (as promised by God).

I realize that Christians have different views on this area, but for me there seems to be a mysterious connection between God’s plan and our free will.

One of the clearest examples of this in the Bible is the death of Jesus.

Jesus said in the garden of Gethsemane ‘Not my will but yours be done’, he was willing to surrender to the will of his father by dying on the cross.

In Acts, when the leaders of the early church were explaining the good news to the people in Jerusalem, they often used the phrase ‘you killed them’ (eg Acts 2.23)

The Bible is clear that it was God’s will that Jesus died but it also says that the Jewish people were responsible for his death (that they chose it as well). In Gethsemane, Jesus also seems to indicate that he had a choice. Although it was his father’s will, his father didn’t make him go to the cross.

I can’t possibly imagine the way that God works his purposes out but I do believe that he is at work in this world working out his plan of restoration and salvation.

Romans 8.29 says ‘For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son’. Is this verse trying to explain the mysterious link between God’s foreknowledge of everything that will happen and the working out of his will? Is it possible that God’s predestination only works itself out in partnership with his foreknowledge of our choices and of everything that will happen?

Perhaps this is true or maybe it is just beyond our understanding! Sometimes in life we just need to trust God even when we don’t understand. I guess that’s why it’s called the Christian faith!

Have you ever wondered why Jesus was supposed to be born in Bethlehem?

In Joseph and Mary’s day Bethlehem was a pretty unimportant place but King David had been born there hundreds of years earlier and so it was regarded by the Jews as special.

God had declared that the Messiah would be one of king David’s descendants and so it made sense for him to be born in Bethlehem as well.

It occurred to me recently that because of the census, it meant that all of the descendants of King David who were living in Israel at the time were gathered in Bethlehem for the birth of the Messiah. How good is that? All of these people were there to have the privilege of joining in the celebration of the birth of the Messiah if only they would choose to believe for themselves.

As the Emperor, Augustus thought that he was in control when in fact his choice mysteriously fulfilled God’s plan.

Sometimes the world seems to be a fairly random and even a dark place. Will we trust that God is working his purposes out through, in the midst of and in spite of our choices?

This is a part of a series of short thoughts for advent to help us to consider the events surrounding the birth of Jesus as we prepare ourselves for Christmas. You can look at the other advent reflections by clicking here.

Tomorrow’s theme is ‘The Road to Bethlehem’.

About honestaboutmyfaith

Hi, my name is Graeme and I’m married to a very patient wife. We have 4 children, 2 rabbits, a terrapin (and not a lot of peace and quiet!). I’m a Regional Minister for the Eastern Baptist Association in the UK (the views expressed in this blog are my own) and I am especially interested in making Church accessible to people who have no church background and also in how we disciple people in order to equip them to live out their faith in the 21st Century.
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1 Response to Advent 12: A Long Time ago in Bethlehem

  1. Pingback: Getting Ready for Christmas | Honest about my faith

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