It started, of all things, with a census.
Caesar Augustus, first Emperor of the new Roman Empire, decreed that all citizens ought be registered for purposes of taxation. If they were anything like the earlier Egyptian censuses, the head of household would have declared details of his property; who lived there, his livestock, employees, etc. The IRS would have loved him.
It’s in this respect we’re introduced to the Holy Family traveling to the City of David, called Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary, who’s with child, settle their affairs with the Romans. Shortly thereafter, a birth long appointed came to pass.
The birth of any child is a momentous occasion. Nine months in eager anticipation of what and who the baby would look like, what sex it would be, and what they would accomplish makes the event quite significant. But this birth was decidedly more so. It takes several months for even modern women to discover the gender of their new bundle. Mary found out “It’s a boy!” before he was even conceived of. Not through the wonders of the Ultrasound of Clairvoyance, but by the annunciation of Gabriel, your friendly neighborhood archangel. Technology is great, but a visit from a member of the heavenly host puts the ultrasound wand and blue belly-jelly to deep shame.
Gabriel bore other portents, as well. In addition to relieving Joseph and Mary of the burden of choosing a name, and of the more modern obsession of choosing between thirty unique ways of spelling it–he “shall be called Jesus”–he provided the most consequential statement of all: his purpose.
From the Gospel of Luke:
“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
And the Gospel of Matthew:
“…and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
And so was the baby called Jesus born in a manger, because there was no room at the inn. For those expecting a Savior, born for glorious purpose, to be grasping a golden spoon from God’s own utensil drawer, or to be clothed in fine linens, the reality is admittedly arresting. He was, instead, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lied down in a feeding trough. No Sealy Posturepedic for this Lord.
For the Word became flesh and dwelt “among” us, not apart from us. He was fully human, and while He was here He never dwelt in cathedrals or palaces, but lived a life as one of us. He grew up in the same places as those He sought to save, ate the same food, learned the same scripture. In order to draw us to Him, He had to become one of us. Subject to the same trails, same temptations, same worldly concerns. There could be no other way.
Not very much of His childhood is known. By all accounts, He grew up strong and showed wisdom beyond His age. In one event, similarly played out in supermarkets everywhere, a young Jesus becomes separated from His parents during a trip to Jerusalem for the Passover feast and celebration. As the caravan heads back to Nazareth, He stays behind in the temple for three days while His parents seek Him out anxiously. They find Him in the midst of temple elders, listening and asking questions of them. He impresses with His command of issues and understanding. When questioned by Mary, and with typical adolescent cheek, He said “Why did you seek me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” Oh. Pardon us. Kids.
The bulk of His ministry came in the final year or so of His life. In His famous Sermon on the Mount, the longest instructional discourse by Jesus, He lays the most important foundation of Christian ethics. It was, frankly, radical. The common wisdom of the time stated that should one have an enemy, you were to crush them. Kill them. Without mercy. No longer:
“You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
The message was simple. There is no reward in loving only those who love us. We must show solidarity with the rest as well, as He does for us.
He Himself put the principle to the pavement. He never surrounded Himself with the righteous, rich or well-to-do. He sought the company of sinners and the downtrodden alike. Thieves. Prostitutes. Lepers. The sickly. Showed them that the Kingdom of Heaven was theirs, if they would but repent of their sins and have faith. Your hope isn’t in the World, its possessions or in works of righteousness. Your Hope is in me, and when I go to the Father, I’ll prepare a place for you. Just take up your cross and follow me.
A short time after this, His deviations from the societal norm got Him taken into custody, and eventually, crucified. It was the plan all along. His life was given to be taken. In that, our lives would be saved and our hope realized. But the message endures across the ages. A message He bore all the days of His life.
From Cradle to Calvary.