In addition to the Distance to our Destination, we may also be distracted by the Details of the Day. Mary and Joseph, and probably most everyone else, would have been devoting considerable thought to what the day of the census would be like. Luke tells us that a decree had gone out from Caesar that the world should be registered, and that this was the first registration while Quirinius was governing Syria. That wording seems to indicate that this registration would have been a first-time experience for those impacted by the decree. So, putting ourselves in their sandals for a moment, it is easy to imagine what questions may have been going through their mind as they traveled to the cities of their ancestors’ birth. For example, where would they have to go in town in order to complete the registration? How many other people would be there? Would they have to wait in a long line? What kinds of information would they be required to provide?
Having never done this before they were undoubtedly unfamiliar with how it would work. This is somewhat difficult for us to imagine, because we do most everything by mail, telephone or the Internet. Can you imagine if each of us had to go to the city of our birth every so many years, or the city of our father’s ancestry? We don’t have these worries today, but just suppose the government decided to implement such a scheme? (After all, you never know what the government might do, right?) I was born in Washington, D.C. Traffic in and around Washington is bad enough on a “normal” day, but I cannot imagine what it would be like if everyone who had been born there had to return at a specified time. The numbers would be staggering. I was born at the Columbia Hospital for Women. The hospital closed in 2002, but it had been one of the oldest hospitals in Washington, D.C., having occupied the same location since 1870. It became one of the pioneering hospitals in many areas of obstetrics and gynecology, and more than 250,000 babies were born at Columbia. And that is but one of the hospitals in D.C. If such an edict were to be made that I had to return to Washington, D.C. for a registration I would certainly be asking myself many of the same questions that Mary and Joseph, and countless others, were asking…and I would likely have trouble finding room in an inn, too.
Registrations aside, though, we still get distracted by the Details of the Day today. Most of us have considerable traditions associated with our Christmas celebrations, and December is typically filled with lots of activity. As Christmas Day approaches, though, our minds may be filled with some or all of these questions…
* When will everyone arrive?
* Did I get all of my shopping done?
* Did I wrap everything?
* Does the tree look right?
* Is the house clean?
* Did I finish all of the decorating?
* When, and what, are we going to eat?
* Who’s bringing what dish?
* When will we open presents?
The Details of the Day can occupy our attention to the point that we forget all about the true meaning of Christmas. Most families make a big deal about Christmas. Family members get together, lots of food is prepared, etc. All of these things are fine. I love Christmas just as much as anyone else, maybe even more. (My collection of Christmas music is almost ridiculously large). But none of these things are what Christmas is all about.
Thinking back to that very first Christmas, no one knew that is was even about to be the first Christmas. Mary and Joseph had some knowledge, because they knew Mary was carrying God’s Son, but even they did not know exactly when Jesus would be born. To everyone alive at that time it was simply the night before another day. A day when they had to register, but other than that, just another day on the calendar. And unfortunately that is what Christmas is for many people today–just another day. It’s a day off of work, a day to get together with loved ones, a day to exchange gifts. But beyond the traditions and the time off of work, it is really just another day. The only thing that makes it any different is the Details of the Day, and so that is what becomes the focus of their attention.
Of course, it is the Details of the Day that account for the true meaning of Christmas, too. Only because Christ was born of a virgin in the city of David, lived a perfect life, suffered and died on the cross, and rose three days later does Christmas have any meaning at all. We just have to be careful to ensure that while we enjoy all of the fun details like food, family and gifts, we do not neglect the meaningful details of Christ’s birth.