Luke 2:1-2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
Luke, as a scientific man, wanted to peg the events he was recording in the flow of history. Westerners, who are so totally used to the current calendar that is pegged to the events Luke recorded, have trouble grasping the difficulties of dates back then. Japanese have a somewhat easier time, because the traditional Japanese calendar starts over with the reign of every new emperor, making this the year Heisei 27. I was born in Showa 23, and my 90+ year-old friend who died this year was born back in the Taisho period. Young Japanese today can’t relate to that, except with “You’re old!” Traditions die hard, but Japan as a whole is converting to what they call the Western Calendar. It certainly makes calculations easier! Back when Luke was writing, the Roman system was very similar to the Japanese, and whereas Augustus had a fairly long reign, some emperors were only on the throne a year or two. That made a grasp of when things happened rather difficult! Also, Augustus commanded two different censuses, so Luke specified this was the first, and gave the further connection of it being while Quirinius was in office. Even so, it’s no wonder Pope Gregory’s scholars were off by a few years when they designated the year of Jesus’ birth, from which to start counting. Even months were called different things in different parts of the Roman Empire, and the Jewish calendar is based on lunar cycles rather than solar, so it’s no wonder we don’t know the exact date of Jesus’ birth! Luke did the best he could to establish that yes, this really happened, as a specific event in the flow of history. For that we should be grateful, certainly, even if we might wish it were more specific.
I’ve been aware of the difficulties in dating Jesus’ birth for as long as I can remember thinking about it, but that has never hindered my understanding that it is worth celebrating. Atheists love to point to the difficulties, and to all the various pagan/syncretistic influences in how we celebrate Christmas, but they deliberately overlook the main point: God loved the world so much that He sent His Son to earth to be born as a human baby, to grow up and take the penalty for the sins of mankind and then overcome that penalty, death, to give the hope of salvation to all who will believe. Personally speaking, I am at this point rather burned out on a lot of Christmas traditions and activities, but I must not let that distract me from rejoicing at the miracle of God’s love. Had there been no Incarnation, I would have no hope at all. Tonight we will have a candle-light service to remind ourselves, and more importantly, to inform others, of the love of God. I need to let the Holy Spirit fill me with grateful appreciation for God’s grace, and then give me the words to communicate that grace to all who gather here, for their salvation and God’s glory.
Father, You know my current situation far better than I do. I wish I understood my own feelings at this point. I desire to rejoice in You and I recognize that I have every reason to do so, yet I feel emotionally exhausted and numb. However, You used me at the City Christmas, even though I felt even worse than I do right now. Help me indeed wait expectantly on You so that You may replace my strength with Yours, (Isaiah 40:30-31) and through me draw all of us closer to Yourself, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!