We begin the story of Christmas with a sentence from scripture that’s not quite true.
“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.”
Well, almost all the world.
Everyone who had some kind of position in society, even a working class one, like Mary and Joseph, went to be registered.
Anyone who could conceivably pay taxes was on the Emperor’s list, and had to report in and be accounted for.
It was sort of the first century equivalent of Big Brother/Big Data.
You’re not getting anywhere in America without a social security card, and you couldn’t get anywhere in first century Palestine without being on the Emperor’s list.
If you were taxable, you would be counted.
“All went to their own towns to be registered,” Luke says.
Well, again, not quite all.
Luke himself tells us that in the next paragraph: “In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.”
The shepherds did not return to their hometown to be registered. They were on the very bottom rung of society.
They couldn’t pay taxes, and had fallen so far between the cracks of the Roman Empire that they weren’t even expected to.
They were nobodies.
When it came time for the registration, to show up and present your name and your papers to the government, no one looked for them.
They quite literally didn’t count.