In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up to Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with Child.
We know that the Nativity took place in Bethlehem during a census that was being conducted by order of Caesar Augustus. Every man was required to take his family to his home town, so Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem to be enrolled in the census.
We know that immediately after the Nativity, angels appeared to shepherds and told them the good news that the promised Messiah had come. Not only did the angels deliver a message, the multitude of the heavenly hosts appeared and made a cold night bright as day. Now, if the sky over Bethlehem became a brilliant bright color in the dead of night, how it is that only the shepherds saw and heard what had happened? There were probably hundreds of thousands of people in Bethlehem. There weren’t bright lights of buildings or street lights the way we have in our towns now. How did everyone miss it?
The answer is easy. Think about the way we live today, glued to our phones. If you hold your phone six inches away from you while you are texting, you can’t see anything but the phone. Go into a dark room, and stare at the phone screen. If it was suddenly light outside, you probably wouldn’t even notice.
The Bethlehem crowd did not have electronic devices but they had other concerns. Was there room at any inn? How would they meet up with family members? The traffic congestion on roads filled with donkeys (and donkey droppings) must have caused a lot of stress and stench. The crowd was so busy that it missed out on the spectacle of angels overhead.
There are two lessons we learn from the crowd. The first is that we can’t become so busy in our lives that we miss out on the message of Christ. We can’t become so busy that there isn’t time to pray, or to be quiet and still, or there isn’t time to worship. We can’t become so busy that we miss out on seeing people who need help, let alone stopping to help them. We can’t become so busy that we forget to thank people and encourage people. And we can’t become so obsessed with getting things that we forget to be grateful for what we have.
The second lesson from the crowd is a good one. The crowd, despite its business, was civically conscious. They were all doing their duty to be registered according to the law and the decree of the government. They were ready to be enrolled in the book of the census. The lesson here is that like the census, GOD calls us to be enrolled in His book of life. He calls us to make the journey from where we are to where He is. This is a journey of repentance and faith. The “crowd” today is by and large not making that journey. We have to think very clearly on which crowd we will go with, the “busy” crowd or the “faithful” crowd. Will our journey be one of material gain or spiritual wealth? And is the end point of our journey to be written in some history book by making a legacy of fame and fortune, or is it to be written in God’s book of life.
Today we present two hymns from the Nativity, the first captures the event of the census, while the second speaks of being enrolled in the name of God.
When the time came for Your Advent on earth, the first census of the Roman world was conducted. Then it was that You began to record the names of those who would believe in Your birth. Such a decree was published by Caesar, because the timelessness of Your eternal kingdom was revealed anew. And now we in our turn, above and beyond a monetary tax, bring to You the wealth of Orthodoxy theology, O God and Savior of our souls. (Praises of the Matins of the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
When Augustus reigned alone on the earth, the many kingdoms of mankind came to an end; and when You became man from the pure Virgin, the many gods of idolatry were destroyed. The cities of the world passed under one single rule, and the nations came to believe in one God. The people were enrolled by decree of Caesar; we the faithful were enrolled in the name of the Godhead, when You became man, O our God. Great is Your mercy. Lord, glory to You. (Doxastikon, Vespers of the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
The lesson of the crowd: Don’t be so busy that you don’t have time for God. As the crowd went dutifully to sign the book of the census, let us go as a purposeful crowd to make sure our names are enrolled in God’s book of life.