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Posted by: revjmk on: December 14, This is a first draft of my sermon for this Sunday, December Please feel free to borrow, quote and adapt, just please credit where appropriate. It still needs editing, and I will probably tinker with it throughout the day. I will post a final revised version on my sermon blog on Sunday. The scripture reading for the day is Zephaniah Shout, Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, daughter Jerusalem! And yet, shouting and rejoicing seem grossly out of place this Sunday, in the wake of the slaughter of children, a national tragedy.

How dare we rejoice in the face of such horror? How dare we talk about joy in the face of such grief and devastation? This is not the day. Now is not the time. How dare we? Zephaniah, or whoever wrote the book in his name that comes at the end of the Hebrew Bible, mostly likely lived more than years before the birth of Christ, during the reign of the king Manasseh. Manasseh was a client king for the conquering Assyrians, and widely regarded as one of the most wicked and evil rulers Israel ever knew. In a bit of history hauntingly parallel to our own, he even practiced of child sacrifice, including the murder of his own son.

We only read the joy part today—the last six verses of this tiny little scroll. Zephaniah begins at the beginning—decrying the tragedy, death and destruction that he sees all around him. A world in which violence has become commonplace and lawlessness the law of the land.

Zephaniah names it all. And he names the feelings it provokes—anger and pain and sorrow and desolation and despair. Then he tells us that God is angry and hurt and mourning along with us. That work—calling out the suffering and telling us God shares it—takes up almost the entire tiny book of Zephaniah. In just the last few verses, slowly, gently, Zephaniah dares invoke joy. Wait for the day when I rise up. Not yet. Not joy realized, but joy promised. Not joy fulfilled, but joy awaiting.

Zephaniah does not declare that everything is alright, or even that it will be alright again soon. Nothing about dead children is ever alright, whether two days or years ago, whether caused by a mass shooting or an abusive king, or war, or famine, or bullying, or addiction, or suicide, or cancer, or anything else. He does not tell us to get over it, move on, or be happy. The prophet speaks of joy because he wants us to know that in spite of it all, God still reigns. How dare he speak of joy in the face of such tragedy?

How dare he not. I am in your midst, and I will create calm with my love. I will deliver the lame. I will gather the outcast. I will change your shame into praise. I will bring all of you back, and you can see them before your eyes. These darkest days are just when we need the light of this little pink candle most of all. We need it now.

In the midst of despair. Otherwise, how could we ever go on? And so, I join with Zephaniah and dare speak to you this day of joy. God still moves toward Bethlehem, even if there is room in the inn. Posted by: revjmk on: December 9, The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.

Millions and millions of people waiting and hoping that their number would be called, hoping that their lives would be changed, debts cancelled, woes about bills and expenses forever banished, mean bosses vanquished. All those fantasies about what you could do, what you would do with such a windfall. It was lots of fun. We had a good time talking and anticipating and hoping.

All the good we could do with that kind of money! As a pastor, I was hoping too. Of course my first hope was that we would win, but my secondary hope was that one of you would win. Then, of course, came the disappointment. Two families were the lucky ones, but the rest of us are just left with useless scraps of paper in our pockets. Oh well. There will be another day. I have my numbers picked for when the jackpot gets big again. Bless them. For you, of course.

The hope of which we speak on this first Sunday of Advent is a very different kind of hope from the hopes we place in a Powerball ticket. Prophets are not fortune tellers, predictors of the future like Nostradamus or something. To prophesy in the Bible is to tell of the promises of God—promises of peace and not destruction, promises of grace and salvation and home and justice.

What is that promise? A leader who will do what is just and right in the land. Salvation and safety for the people of Israel and Judah, and for Jerusalem. You can see how different that is than the Powerball kind of hope. Early in the week, when I was thinking about this distinction, I put it out on my Facebook page, and quite a few of my friends weighed in with their thoughts, which are integrated with my own. First and foremost, the difference between the Powerball hope and the Gospel hope is the difference between luck and trust.

The Powerball is all about luck—and your chances are one in million, which is not very good odds. The Gospel is all about trust—confidence that God will come through, not just for one in 6 billion of us, but for the whole world. With Powerball, one lucky family, or maybe two, experiences salvation, freedom from debt and a change of their lives. The Gospel Hope is for the whole world, for the salvation of everyone, so that we experience a change in the way the whole planet runs, into ways of justice and righteousness and peace and salvation for all.

Powerball hope seeks immediate gratification. By on Wednesday night, you knew if you were a winner or a loser, if your hopes were fulfilled or not. Gospel hope proclaims that, no matter what comes, God will be in charge at the end. God will see you through.

Peace will prevail, no matter how long it takes. In the famous words of Dr. My cousin wrote: The gospel actually leaves you with a better life 10 years later instead of the strife and drama lottery winnings come with. Jim Jensen, St. One of the first things that people were quick to point out is that, unlike the Powerball, the Gospel is free. But the math is all different.

People play Powerball trying to spend a little and get a lot. No matter how many tickets you have, your chances are still just one in million. God might talk about a narrow path, but it is nowhere near as narrow as the lottery path. Give it all, get it all and more. Whatever you put in comes back to you in full measure and more. The more you put in, the stronger the hope grows.

But it will cost you everything to follow it. And it will be worth every penny, every hour, every sacrifice. In my initial Facebook posting, I made a note that told my friends not to mock anyone who played the lottery, because it is fun to hope and imagine what you would do with all those winnings. For hoping and imagining the Gospel promises being fulfilled in our lifetime, or even in us.

Imagine the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Imagine a world of peace and justice. Imagine right relationships, security, trust, fulfillment. And know that those are not wild fantasies and lottery dreams—they are the hope of the prophets, the sure bet, the free grace, the covenant of peace and justice and righteousness and safety and salvation from the God who was and is and is to come.

For the time is coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise. Thanks be to God. Posted by: revjmk on: March 12, Photo of tornado that hit Henryville, from crabbyhousewife. Exactly ten days ago, deadly tornadoes rolled through our region. Our town is just a few miles from Henryville, Indiana, which took a direct hit from an EF4 tornado. One family has lost their entire home, another family has sustained major damage. Almost everyone has suffered emotional and spiritual trauma, as they feared for their own lives and worried over friends and loved ones in the hours after the storm.

Henryville High School, devastated by the tornado. Last Sunday, less than 36 hours after the storm, our community gathered for the first time. For most of us, it was the first chance we had to talk about our experiences. I groped for something to say to my congregation in the wake of such devastation. In prayer, I realized we needed to do three things in that hour of worship: to acknowledge our feelings, to find our hope in God, and to organize our service.

We began the sermon by simply inviting people to share words that described what they had been feeling. While one occasion of worship was not enough to process all these feelings, there was a palpable sense of connection in the room as we realized that we were all feeling the same way. I was so excited that I posted a picture of my PET scan online before I realized the picture also showed the positronic outline of my man-parts.

Like Paul, I know what it is to have plenty- plenty of worries and fear and regrets, plenty of pain and pain-in-the-ass insurance claims. And Dennis Perry became not my colleague but my pastor. Before, whenever someone would give me a gift, I would immediately think about what I now had to give them to even the scales between us, to balance out the relationship. One thing cancer taught me: when you think of your relationships in that way, in terms of credits and debits, you probably think of God that way too.

And I worried: How can I possibly repay you? It kicks yours. Just as God, in the incarnation, chooses not to be God apart from Jesus, God-with-us; Jesus, after the resurrection, chooses not to be Christ apart from us, his Church. There is no Christ, in other words, who is not mediated by and through and in his Gathered People, the Church.

About your prayer. About your faithfulness. About your compassion and care. I can do all things through you. And so can Ali. And so would Gabriel and Alexander. He was in the beginning with God. In other words, before anything else, there was a with. The with between God and the Word, the Father and the Son. With, says the bible, is the most fundamental thing about God.

He will dwell with them as their God. God himself will be with them. Being with is about presence. Being with is about participation. It was kind of you to share my nightmare. It was kind of you to share in my pain and suffering. It was kind of you to make my cancer- our cancer- yours too. I offer it you in the name of that other family- Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Puthi translated for me; wherever we went: to churches and mission sites and meetings.

He translated for me when I prayed, read scripture, celebrated communion or preached. He did a good job, and whenever I would introduce Mark to people as a professional clown or a pole dancer, Puthi would translate perfectly and with a straight face. As I said, he was a good translator. He teaches the trade to boys who might otherwise never find work. One afternoon towards the end of our time there, Puthi was driving Mark and me through the crowded streets of Phnom Penh.

And his phone rang. He took the call and then spoke in hushed Khmer while he maneuvered around the thousands of pedestrians and motorcycles in the city streets. The call lasted a few minutes after which Puthi closed his phone and, without comment, focused on the road. He was trying to find the right words, the proper translation. And he smiled. The numbers vary a bit: the feeding of the multitude, the feeding of the five thousand.

Matthew and Mark include a second account of four thousand fed. Add in the women and children who would not have been counted according to first century prejudice and, well, it was a lot of people. And they all have this action that sounds like communion: Jesus took the loaves, blessed them and gave it to them. Each Gospel portrays the crowds as all full and satisfied and every gospel includes the leftovers: 12 baskets.

But only John- tells of Jesus asking that leading question. And, trust me, scholars have something to say about every other detail in the story. The five loaves? And the two fish- any guesses? The two fish- say scholars- stand for the two natures of Christ, the human and the divine. How about the twelve baskets? They symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel. Commentators even take note of the type of bread with which Jesus feeds the multitude: barley.

Barley, according to commentators, ripened earlier than wheat, making it cheap and readily available. In other words, it was bread for the poor. It was bread of the poor. When biblical commentators turn to John 6, they leave no interpretive stone unturned. No detail is extraneous. Everything means something. Except the boy.

No one bothers to mention the boy. Not one of the biblical scholars bother to notice the boy standing there near Andrew, the boy with his five and his two. After navigating the chaotic city streets, Puthi pulled into a bank parking lot. The bank, which looked new and clean and upscale, appeared misplaced amidst the crumbling buildings, make-shift alley shelters and barefoot children that surrounded it. Mark went inside to use the ATM. I got out of the truck to cool off and stretch my legs.

I leaned against the front, passenger window and talked with Puthi. But that was as close to a Word from the Lord as I had heard that whole time. At the wedding at Cana, the water jugs that were about to become casks of wine? John says there were 6 of them, and they each held gallons. When Jesus was about to summon Lazarus from the tomb. And when the Risen Christ was cooking breakfast for the disciples who were fishing early one morning.

John records that they were about yards off shore. And the catch of fish that morning that strained the nets? So when the little boy provides the food that Jesus uses to feed the multitudes, we ought to at least notice him. We ought to see him standing there with his five and his two. You can puzzle all you want about the symbolism behind the 12 and the 5 and the 2. Because- as half-baked as it sounds- Jesus takes what we have to offer, our smallest acts of mercy and compassion, and he multiplies it to further the Kingdom of God.

Every last one of us has both the joy and the responsibility, the privilege and the burden of sharing in the ministry of Jesus. I had to retell this story for the children at Vacation Bible School back in June. I used brownies instead of barley loaves.

A bit ago I reposted an article asking folks what they want in a sermon. I thought this was a very thoughtful response I received from a friend in my congregation.

That its not enough to show up for the wedding or to go to the game.

I offer to you here, with his permission, in no self-aggrandizing way:. What I want is clearly not what everyone wants, and the fact that we at church have you pastors at the same time for so long is a terrific asset for the congregation. It allows different styles to be present in the same location. I see tremendous hypocrisy, which includes myself, throughout our society and community — and throughout our faith. So, I want someone who is able to identify those same things and point them out in a constructive way that reflects our faith.

I started looking for churches again when I was stationed in Germany, after I spoke with a Jewish Rabbi, in I attended some traditional and nontraditional services. I want to hear how I should love someone who I otherwise would pass by. Between the Christian factions — or to at least help us understand what makes a Methodist sermon different than a Catholic or Non-Denominational one.

That desire goes back to learning bits and pieces about our faith — but through current happenings. When we bought our home, we bought it to be closer to our church and to a particular school. We want to stay and we want to be part of this community. I want to be continually challenged. I could tell you a story through these three clergy — one Rabbi, one Catholic, and one Evangelical Preacher… I found bits to identify with each and something to take away.

I still ended up in the Methodist tradition that I was baptized into back in the Chicago area. We are happy here and what we are getting is exactly what we want. In a culture that is increasingly participatory, our preaching is still primarily a monologue. In a culture passionate about discovering meaning and crafting identity, our preaching too often draws conclusions for our hearers rather than inviting them into the questions themselves. Second, as I look around our congregations, I see any number of people largely disconnected from the preaching, appreciating a touching story, perhaps, but rarely drawing from the sermon something they will continue to think about during the rest of the week.

But has it lost the ability to startle us? To make us gasp? Maybe too little to embrace it. Or maybe too much. I felt like I was in between worlds. This was a couple of weeks ago and I was in Starbucks at Mount Vernon Shopping Center, trying to write a sermon different from this one. In my ears, the hopes and prayers of the prophet Isaiah were being sung by the London Philharmonic. And in front of me, on the page of my opened Bible, was the news from St. For sitting next to me among the crowded round tables was a man and a young a man- a father and son, I presumed.

The coffee shop was loud and crowded, filled with the noise of shooting steam and tables of people debriefing their holiday shopping. Already it was dark outside, the lights from the store fronts bleeding out any notice of the stars. I was getting my notes and books in order when they sat down. I tried hard not to make eye contact. Looking down at the tiled floor, I noticed he was wearing expensive-looking loafers, the kind with tassles on them, and also exotically patterned socks. He smelled of cologne and had a distinct if undefined accent. Apparently the table was not small enough, though, as the father scooted in his chair to sit even closer- at a right angle- to the boy who bore his younger likeness.

The cues were all there and they were unmistakable. And, as it goes in such battles, the casualties were young and innocent. That was what was happening next to me at the adjacent coffee table. The awkwardness of their body language and the reticence of the son made it clear to me: that they had agreed to meet there, at the coffee shop, only after much negotiation. That they were, according to their agreement, on neutral ground. And I felt caught between worlds. As soon as I recognized what was playing out in front of me I tried to refocus, to ignore them, to read St. He wore a black hooded sweatshirt, baggy cargo pants and Vans on his feet.

He looked like a kid you might see skateboarding in the church parking lot. Sitting there, he was curled up in as much of a fetal position as the table would allow. And each time his father would shrug his eyes and wave him off, as if his own perspective were the only star worth following. And then it was over. The irony of the bold heading caught my eye so I picked it up and beneath the central graphic I read the introductory lines that the proud and contemptuous man had been sitting on:.

Bible Stories Explained: Daniel's Vision of a Man (English: King James Version)

And St. Matthew only tells us that wise men from far away searched out a promise of God and, when they found him, they paid him honor and worshipped him. So today perhaps the Washington Post is right. About came out for our Bluegrass Christmas Eve at the Firehouse this year. You can listen to the sermon here below, in the widget on the sidebar or you can download it in iTunes here.

For example, about 10 years ago, the Sunday before Christmas, we staged a Christmas pageant at a little church I once served. During dress rehearsal that morning, stomach flu had started to sweep through the heavenly host. Truth be told, it had neither the numbers nor the talent to mount a production of the Christmas story; nonetheless, a brusque, take-charge mother, who was a new member in the congregation, had approached me about staging a pageant. The set constructed in the church sanctuary was made to look like the small town where we lived.

So the Bethlehem skyline was dotted with Burger King, the local VFW, the municipal building, the funeral home and, instead of an inn, the Super 8 Motel. At every stop in Bethlehem someone sat behind a cardboard door. The old man behind the door of the cardboard VFW was named Fred. He was the oldest member of the congregation.

He sat on a stool behind the set, wearing his VFW beret and chewing on an unlit cigarillo. Thus, one wise man wore a white lab coat and carried a telescope. Another wise man was dressed like the WWF wrestler the Iron Sheik, and the third wise man wore a maroon Virginia Tech bathrobe and for some inexplicable reason had aluminum foil wrapped around his head.

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As the pageant began with a song lip-synced by the angels, the other usher for the day sat next to me. His name was Mike. He was an imposing, retired cop with salt-and-pepper hair and dark eyes. Mike sat down, fixed his reading glasses at the end of his nose, opened his program and began mumbling names under his breath: Mary played by…Elizabeth played by…Magi 1 played by…. His voice was barely above a whisper but it was thick with contempt. I knew right then what he was getting at or, rather, I knew what had gotten under his skin.

There were no teenage girls in the congregation to be cast. So Mary was played by a grown woman- a grown woman who was married to a man more than twice her age. Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, was played a woman who was new to the church, a woman who often wore sunglasses to worship or heavy make-. The man playing the role of Zechariah owned a construction company and had been accused of fraud by another member of the congregation.

The innkeeper at the Super 8 Motel…he was a lifelong alcoholic, alienated from his grown children and several ex-wives. Reluctantly shepherding the elementary-aged shepherds was a high school junior. His mother was dressed as an angel that day, helping to direct the heavenly host. Then he rolled up his program and he poked me with it and, just when the angel Gabriel was delivering his news to Mary, Mike whispered into my ear:. For example, St.

"I'm Speechless" Zechariah's Story: A Christmas One Act Play for One Man

Mark is the oldest of the Gospels but all Mark says about Christmas is that the coming of Jesus is the beginning of one Kingdom and the end of another. St Luke weaves the most popular nativity story. His is the story you probably know, telling us about the days of Caesar Augustus, about a tax and a census. But Matthew, by contrast, begins his Christmas story, not with angels or emperors, with an ad from www.

I wanted to read it all tonight but my wife said that would be sermon suicide. Matthew tells the Christmas story not with emperors or angels or shepherds. Begats that go back all the way to the first promise God ever made to bless the world. Judah made the same mistake with his own daughter-in-law, Tamar. Boaz was seduced by a foreigner named Ruth. He woke up in the middle of night and found Ruth climbing in to bed with him.

Not that Boaz ought to have been shocked. David was a power-hungry peeping-tom, who spied on Bathsheba bathing on a rooftop one evening. David arranged for her husband, Uriah, to be murdered. David and Bathsheba went to become the parents of Solomon, the next name in the family tree of Emmanuel, God-with-us.

Do you really think this is appropriate? Mike asked me and then gestured with the rolled up program of names. She was old and incredibly tiny, no bigger than the children that morning wearing gold pipe cleaner halos around their heads. Emphysema was killing Mary a breath at a time. She had to be helped up to the pulpit once the performance began. And when we finally speak, I pray what we have to say is as beautiful and inspiring as the songs of Mary and Zechariah. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it— one from the house of David— one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness.

They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your ancestors lived. And these are just a few of the verses that promise a Messiah from the line of David. All of these were written hundreds of years before Christ came, yet Jesus fulfills more than prophecies from the Old Testament. Jesus had a better chance of a meteorite falling on his house.

Yet with all this evidence showing us Jesus really is the Messiah, the story of Christmas is still a story of faith. Some folks live in hope for the peace and joy the season promises. But Advent is a reminder we must believe every promise of God is true. To really enjoy all the beauty of this holiday, our focus has to stay on Christ; Christ, the baby; Christ, the One who walked on this earth to show us who the Father truly is; and Christ the Son of God and Son of Man who died on a cross to pay the penalty for all our sins.

When we look to the gifts or the beauty of the season, we miss the peace and joy. But when we embrace the promises of God and trust Him to bring every one to completion, we will be fascinated by the love and grace of the One whose been making those promises since the beginning of time.

Christmas Nativity Musical - GAMA Austin 2015

Yesterday we read just a few of the verses of prophecy Jesus fulfilled. In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. Jesus came to set up an eternal kingdom, a dominion that no one can conquer. All over the world people are trying to crush Christianity. People have tried to stop prayer and convince us the Bible is outdated.

But for all their efforts, the Kingdom of Christ has grown and remained strong. All other kingdoms require land and buildings in order to be successful. The Kingdom has faced lions and guns, cannibals and dungeons, but because the territory is within the believer, the enemy of Jesus has never been successful in destroying His infinite rule. Christmas is a celebration of the eternal Authority of Christ. Before Christ came the Kingdom of God seemed far away; true peace and joy as well as His presence was reserved for Heaven.

Because of His birth and death and the gift of His Spirit, we can live in His Kingdom now and have a taste of our future home in the final Kingdom which will never end. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

This is one of the most famous prophecies of all time. Isaiah 9 is a beautiful description of the promised Messiah. Because of these verses and others like them, the people of Israel were expecting someone who could come and take over the physical throne of David. They wanted the nation of Israel to be fully restored.

It was the only real and true government that was destined to rest on the shoulders of Jesus Christ. No matter how great other rulers thought they could be, regardless the power earthly nations imagined they possessed, the ultimate Kingdom which will have no end rests with the One they thought they could kill. Little did they know His death would give power to His followers as it released forgiveness and freedom from sin. They never dreamt the crucifixion would empower the government they feared. A Child was born in the lowliest way possible.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. One of my favorite titles for Jesus is Wonderful Counselor. At Christmas we think of Jesus as a baby. All the pictures and our nativity scenes have him wrapped in a blanket lying on the hay. People around the world are fascinated with the infant Son of God. But if we want a Wonderful Counselor we have to take Christ out of the manger. Everyone wants peace. Most think it comes when people quit fighting. I wish that were the truth. Yes, peace that comes from no one fighting is a blessing, but the internal peace we have when we let the Wonderful Counselor have control over our lives is amazing!

And when we wave the white flag and make Jesus the King of our lives, the Holy Spirit takes over and we have a close friend, an advocate, a confidant. The Holy Spirit stands with us in every difficult situation giving us advice, leading us out of harms way and filling us with the peace that goes beyond human understanding.

Jesus was called Wonderful Counselor centuries before He was born, but He wants to be your Wonderful Counselor right now. Jesus tried to help folks understand. Too many times people focus on the gifts and the lights, the trees and the presents and forget the reason we celebrate. But Jesus is more. He came to be the Wonderful Counselor and the Everlasting Father. The Son is the Father and the Father is the Son. Somehow God is big enough to be Father, Son and Spirit all at the same time. Even as a baby, Jesus was wrapped in the Trinity limited only by the earthly body He chose to wear while He walked on this earth.

Israel was looking for a conquering king to save them. They seemed to ignore the heads up Isaiah gave them that the Messiah would be an Everlasting Father. Instead He was born to show us what a real Father looks like. As you consider the fascination of Advent this week, remember that the Baby in the Manger is so much more than we generally imagine. Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Isaiah Before Jesus was born it seems as though the Holy Spirit was limited.

How can a baby be God? But for some reason it was just as hard for people thirty years later to believe it. Advent is more than half over, but we have a choice. After December 25th we can leave Jesus in a manger and continue trying to live life on our own, or we can surrender to His Spirit, follow His path and walk with God every day, Immanuel. Just in case there was any doubt, God sent a messenger to both Mary and Joseph to tell them what to name His Son. Every time I read the name Joshua in scripture I try to find out what the person is saving.

As soon as he died the people turned away from the One who fed them for forty years in the desert. Joshua saved them from life in the wilderness by following God. In Zechariah 3 and 6 the Bible tells of another Joshua, a man who was following God and was appointed to lead the people in rebuilding the temple. But even more than that look at what God said about this Joshua,. And he will be a priest on his throne. This Joshua was high priest during His time, as much as He could be while the Babylonians ruled. The rest of the words of Zechariah were a prophecy about Jesus, the Branch.

Joshua, whose name means Savior, had the name of the Branch. He told them this Savior would build the temple of the Lord, would rule and be a priest. Yeshua came to be the Savior. This Baby we celebrate was born to one day build a temple in you I Corinthians , a temple where He Himself would sit on the throne and rule, a place where He would both King and Priest. Is Jesus King and Priest in your life today? Is He your ruler, has He shown you the Father? Your Savior. I n those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.

Why a census? Why did the ruler of the largest nation in the world decide to call a census right at that moment in time? Mary and Joseph were in Nazareth living as newlyweds when they got word Joseph was required to return to Bethlehem. They were probably trying to keep a low profile to keep tongues from wagging since she was pregnant prematurely, and now they had to pack up and leave Nazareth to walk all the way to the Town of David. After at least a week on the road, and maybe longer, the couple would have finally found Bethlehem.

Where they stayed each night no one knows. We can only assume they traveled with a group for protection from robbers, but it could have been just the two of them making the long journey. The only thing we know for sure is a woman nearly ready to have a baby would have been exhausted at the end of the ninety-some miles.

But God wanted everyone to know He was in charge. A census called by a Roman ruler at precisely the right time in history is just one more demonstration that the Creator of the Universe was in control of the situation. God had promised the ultimate ruler would come from Bethlehem, and He wanted us to know He was keeping His promise. He could have chosen a family already in Bethlehem to save someone the trip. The census is a reminder that God has everything under control, even the rulers of this world. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Did you know there may not have even been an inn in Bethlehem? Even before He was born the Son of God was dismissed as unimportant, put in the darkest corner as an afterthought. Yet how often do we do that to our Savior? How many times do we dismiss Jesus? How often do we put Him aside while we do things on our own, take care of important tasks or go ahead with the busyness of our lives? Christmas is just days away. Has the hullabaloo of the holiday kept you from spending time with the One whose birth you celebrate?

She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger. The older folks score the guest room, I get it. Have you ever laid on a bail of hay? Over and over God has proven He likes to be unpredictable. Throughout scripture, the Creator continually surprised people. He led the nation of Israel away from Egypt right toward the Red Sea, then at the last possible moment, when they thought they were all going to die, the waters parted and dry land lay ahead of them. Daniel found himself in a lions den for a whole night, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego thought they were done when they were thrown into that fiery furnace.

Picture Mary preparing for the birth of her first Son. And then Caesar decides he needs a census, so she heads to Bethlehem. Maybe she even thought Her Heavenly Father would use the trip to Bethlehem to give the Baby an even better start to life.