Doesn't make any census

Read Luke 2:1-7. This is part 1 of Advent week 3 in our Harbor Devotional that accompanies our "Anthems" series in Luke.

Luke already claimed to be a fastidious historian, getting details about Jesus' life compiled so that people could have sufficient information on which to base their faith. However, not too terribly long after he wrote his gospel, people had some “details” questions regarding the census that brought Joseph and Mary back to Bethlehem. There was an infamous census when Quirinius was governor in Syria (Luke records this in Acts) of which doesn’t exactly line up, since this was in 6 AD (probably 10 years after Jesus was born) and Quirinius doesn’t seem to be  governor at this time. While a number of explanations have been put forth to explain this seeming discrepancy, it is likely best to just say, “I don’t know.” I’d like a better explanation myself, but then again, there has to be a place for mystery in our faith. If we are willing to believe in angels, then probably these missing details aren’t that big of a stretch!

1.) Even though we have some questions regarding the details and dating regarding this census, why do you think it is important for Luke to include these details? What do historical details like this do for the reader? These details locate the story in a specific setting and time. Myths don’t record details, historians recording real history do! We need to know this is history.

2.) Notice that God includes Pagan emperors as part of his story. Why might this be important for us to realize? What do you think Ceasar’s motivation was for this census? How does Luke encourage us with this story? Despite Ceasar’s intentions,  God is in control of all things and can use selfish actions for His glory!

3.) Joesph’s hometown was Bethlehem, even though he hadn’t lived there in some time. He returns back home by Imperial decree, but why God does allow this likely unpopular edict to happen. Read Micah 5:2.

4.) How convenient and comfortable would this journey have been for the very pregnant Mary?  What does this tell you about the experiences of the main players in Jesus’ story? What about the rest of the birth story, biblical story, our stories? Do they suffer inconvenience and discomfort? It is not easy being part of this story, but it is always better. Still we need to see how “inconveniencing” it is sometimes.

5.) There has been even more speculation regarding the surroundings of Jesus’ brith than with this census. What can we know for sure from this narrative? Swaddling cloths, manger.  What kinds of things have been added to the story that are neutral? What has been added that could be unhelpful, or simply sentimental? “Little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.”

6.) Some early traditions put Jesus’ birth in a cave. Some have placed him in a barn. But some recent scholarship has claimed that the inn could be a mistranslation and might just refer to a different room in same house, where animals could have been kept. Regardless of exact setting, how does Jesus’ birth give us a picture of his ministry, mission, and life moving forward?

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