In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world… So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David. (Luke 2:1, 4)
But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel. (Matthew 2:5-7)
Out of the place a man was forced to travel by order of the occupying force will come the true Ruler. From the commanded upon will come the King of all. Out of helplessness, authority. Out of being demanded upon, a gift. Out of having to be someplace, finally becoming someone. Joseph must go, but where he must go by decree of man will be used by prophecy of heaven to redeem the world. Peace on earth from the requirements of those in authority solely from the violence of war. God will offer every person freedom from a beginning having none of it. Because what heaven is doing when men are raging is redeeming the weak by confounding the wise. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are. (1 Cor. 1:28)
So Joseph goes. He has been an unknown carpenter until angelic manifestations to himself and his fiancée demonstrated that heaven has noticed what earth ignores. As Mary says of God “He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant.” (Lk. 1:48). And heaven is on the move. Infertile relatives are having children. Nameless shepherds are seeing glory. Priests will go mute and old widows speak from the Spirit. Men on hospice will proclaim the holy. Those sitting in palaces will be told to their face “where is the King?” Everything on earth is becoming confounded by the coming of the its Creator. Organized human activity is being shattered by the Giver of life becoming a life to give.
Peace on earth. Disruption from heaven.
We must get caught up in the work of heaven. If Joseph had spent his time arguing about the wrongfulness of the census or the oppression of the Gentiles he may have missed the reality that God’s word never returns void despite the lostness of man. Joseph will go where he may not have wanted to go to do what he may not have wanted to do and so become part of God doing what no man could have ever done on an earth no man could have ever saved. Joseph could trust that what was happening in his life was more important than his being in control of it or inconvenienced by it. Temporary trials were achieving a glory far outweighing them all. In God the struggles we cannot control can become the redemption we could not have imagined.
Because helplessness is always an invitation for holiness.
When it feels like life has not been arranged according to our liking it is being organized for our good.
We live in disrupted times. That doesn’t mean they aren’t holy ones. God proclaims to a group of disrupted people – peace on earth. Do you have it? Do your neighbors? Not just peace – peace on earth. And what was the state of earth when heaven proclaimed peace? The relevant factor could not have been earth because a government infanticide was about to occur, Joseph and Mary did not have good balances in the checking account, the Romans were counting heads and the best opportunities some folks had was laying next to sheep in the middle of the night using their bodies as living shields against wild animal attacks. No – the heavenly host must have been referring to something else as the data point for peace. Of course they were. Peace on earth can only be proclaimed from heaven, because peace on earth cannot take place without it. Earth does not say peace to heaven, for it can offer no peace, only receive it. Peace on earth is possible to those living in context without it because the peace being offered is not bound by the constraints of the world that needs it but is as unlimited as the God who gives it. Peace on earth, because earth needs peace. Peace not just to earth, but on it. Now, here, in Jesus, peace on earth. Earth has not arrived at the condition of peace. Peace has arrived on earth, from outside it, not from within it, given to it, not by it, offered for it, not from it.
From the whole staff and my family, peace on your part of earth,