Added on 18/12/2012
A CHRISTMAS CENSUS BEGINS
Many lively discussions have been going on, of late, about how we are to deal with the results of the national census. What are the trends? How might the findings of Census 2011 affect people’s sense of national identity?
In the midst of all this, I’ve been conscious of the fact that the events of that first Christmas were, in part, shaped by a national census. The reason why this child was born in Bethlehem was because Mary and Joseph had made the journey there in order to be head–counted – ‘A decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.’
While it’s an interesting question as to whether or not the baby that Mary gave birth to that night was included in the census figures of that year, what is of far greater significance is the extent to which this particular new–born was to prove to be a census–changer, globally.
Those who would become followers of this Bethlehem–born child would discover, in him, a new personal identity for themselves and a fresh personal allegiance to him which would enable them to see their other identities and allegiances in a fresh light. Some of Jesus’ own disciples found this approach of his difficult to come to terms with – their assumption was that he would be a political or even military saviour. But he made it quite clear to them that his purpose was on a different, higher plane altogether.
Other allegiances and identities would not to be done away with or denied, but they would be put into a broader and healthier perspective. As in Census 2011, we all ticked several boxes which reflect various aspects of how we describe ourselves – including British, Irish, Northern Irish or other. But our self–designation of nationality, as well as of race, of gender, of political persuasion, or even our allegiance to party or country – all these are transcended by an over–riding sense of belonging to and prioritising another kind of Kingdom.
This Bethlehem–born hero himself was not preoccupied with national or political identity, but concerned himself much more with serving others, with showing compassion, with healing, with love, with forgiveness. So for his followers, the most important thing in their world should not be their nationality or their political aspirations, but to live a life with a motivation more in line with his.
So the birth of Jesus, which took place at the time of a national census, has something to say to us as we grapple with the findings of a census in our day.
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