"The most wonderful time of the year" is once again upon us. And when reflecting on Christmas, a good place to turn our attention to first, is the trip to Bethlehem in light of the census. Comparing the nativity stories of Matthew and Luke, together with some considerations of Josephus, some people conclude that the Bible dates Jesus' birth in error (in one or both Gospels). However, the census Josephus mentions is no doubt a different census from the one Luke mentions and there is no problem.
But the dating is not what I wished to talk about today.
When "there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed" it necessitated the return of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. That is exactly where the Messiah needed to be born according to the prophecy, clearly written centuries in advance, in the fifth chapter of Micah in the Old Testament. Since God gave His word that His Son would be born in Bethlehem, God wanted Him to be born there (else He would be made a liar).
But Caesar Augustus was presumably not taking the census to fulfill Bible prophecy. He likely had reasons of his own, having nothing to do with biblical religion, for the census. For whatever reason, then, he wanted Mary (one could say) in Bethlehem as she was about to give birth.
God knew that if there was a Caesar Augustus, and if he found himself in the circumstances of the 4th century B.C. (Christ was apparently born in the fourth year B.C believe it or not) that he actually did find himself in, that he would decree a census requiring Mary to return to Bethlehem. God also knew that Mary was about to give birth to the Messiah who must, as we saw before, be born in Bethlehem.
I ask you, was Caesar free to issue the census which landed Mary in Bethlehem or was it really God's sovereign and fore-ordained decree? Yes!
You see how inter-related theology is? We started off talking about the first Christmas and ended up in the arena which has been debated for centuries by Calvinists and Arminians.
Merry Christmas one and all!