It was incredible. Some government official, apparently accountable to no one else, got some wild notion and issued an order. The order didn’t affect him much, but the impact on everyone else was huge. The economy was essentially shut down as everyone was forced to suspend their business to comply with the order. There was apparently no thought about what the impact of the order would be on the citizens, no consideration of the hardship this would cause, no plan to provide compensation to those impacted by the order, and no concern for how recovery could be accomplished – if that were even possible. Many thought the order was capricious, arbitrary, and perhaps even cruel.
One young couple was especially impacted by this order. You see, they were newlyweds, and she was pregnant. Life, in their situation, was hard enough – this was almost too much on top of everything else. Yet, they set out on the long journey to Bethlehem; they had no choice.
Now, many years later, we don’t think about government overreach, we don’t rail against the despotic abuse of power, and we don’t decry the burden placed on the citizenry. No, we retell the story as if it were a beautiful thing; we celebrate this event almost as if it were the best thing that ever happened.
Why? Because it is a beautiful story, and it was the best thing that ever happened. All because God set all these things in motion to accomplish His purpose – which was much bigger than an inconvenient census or a minor disruption in the world’s routine. We read about His purpose in the third chapter of John’s gospel
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. John 3:16–18 (NIV)
You see, the world was condemned, not by God but by its own disobedience and unbelief. The only way to solve that problem was for God to come to earth and pay the penalty for our sin and so he came as a baby.
We celebrate his birth at Christmas. We celebrate his death every time we take the Lord’s Supper. It was in his death the penalty was paid, our salvation was ensured, and our future was secured. The loaf and the cup remind us of his sacrifice and, through our participation in this meal, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes back the second time.