Luke 2:1–7 (ESV) (1) In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. (2) This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. (3) And all went to be registered, each to his own town. (4) And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, (5) to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. (6) And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. (7) And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Luke 2:1-7 records the story of Jesus’ birth. Like you, I have read that story many times. While reading it this time verse 1 stood out. At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.
Consider the significance of this verse. The person (Augustus) and location (Rome) identify the historical context and confirm the veracity of the event. This is not a cute, fairy tale to be read by a warm fire as you sip hot chocolate. No. The birth of Jesus is a historical reality that caused a seismic shift in the direction of human history and in every life.
Next, Augustus made a decree. A decree is an official order issued by a legal authority. Augustus had the authority to demand a census to be taken resulting in Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem. Interestingly, the emperor, while not realizing what he was doing, was acting under the sovereign direction of almighty God. Augustus had authority in the Roman Empire. God has all authority; everywhere; over all events; through all time.
Finally, Augustus wanted to know how many people were in the Roman Empire so that he could ensure everyone was taxed. In other words, Augustus acted in his own self-interest. God already knows how many people are on planet Earth and in fact, He knows every person. And get this, God is acting to give every one of us hope. How? By inviting us to live in union with His Son, Jesus the Messiah.
Christmas is a time of hope. If you have lost hope or are struggling to remain hopeful, know this. God knows you personally, He loves you deeply and He has full authority to act on your behalf, which He is doing.