Taxes, Urban Planners, and Terrified Shepherds
Ah, taxes, often the beginning of a spell-binding story, right? Well, no, not all that often.
But this one amazing story incorporates taxes as a significant component of how the tale unfolds. And it happened long, long ago; so long ago that it was BC. You know, Before Christ.
Emperor Augustus tells everyone to return to their ancestral village so a census can be taken of the “entire Roman world.” It seems he needed to get his taxes on just like Cyrenius had done when he was governor of Syria. (If you want to dig a little deeper, here is an article from Associates for Biblical Research that explains more about the census.)
Apparently, this taxation “thing” happened every fourteen years. And that leads me to believe as the story unfolds that perhaps some urban planners were not up to speed. Because this story takes place in Bethlehem and surely everyone knew that the small town of Bethlehem was going to have an influx of Jews who had ancestral ties to that location.
It only figures.
Look, here is a list of other important people and events concerning “The Little Town of Bethlehem.”
· Jacob's beloved wife Rachel died at Bethlehem, and her tomb was located there
· Ruth and Boaz lived there
· King David was born there
· While David was hiding in the wilderness, his mighty men brought him water from the well at Bethlehem
In any event, when Joseph and his pregnant, teenaged, espoused wife Mary show up to be counted, there just aren’t enough hotels and motels to go around.
This couple ends up renting space among the animals, where Mary gives birth.
Then, something out of the ordinary happens. Recently terrified shepherds show up.
Shepherds -- as in the fellows who hang around outside in good weather and bad.
Shepherds -- as in the people who aren’t afraid of the dark.
Shepherds -- as in the guys who fight off the wild beasts attacking their flocks.
Shepherds – as in the sheepherders who witnessed not just one but a whole host of angels showing up to make a birth announcement.
The second chapter of the biblical book of Luke says this about those shepherds in verse nine, An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (Emphasis added.)
Another way to understand the word “terrified” is to see it as “phobia mega phobos” and you can figure out what that means. You know what I’m talking about; the way that electrical shock runs through your body when you are too scared to think.
In the same chapter, verses fifteen through twenty read, When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
And that is the story of how taxes, the lack of urban planning, and terrified shepherds all played a part in the first Christmas.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” -- Isaiah 9:6