An Advent Meditation on Luke 2: 1-7

Kevin J Youngblood

In those days a decree was published by Caesar Augustus to conduct a census of the entire inhabited world. This was the first census conducted since Quirinius became governor of Syria. So everyone journeyed to be registered, each to his own ancestral town. So Joseph made a pilgrimage from Galilee from the city of Nazareth to Judea to the city of David which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the royal lineage of David) to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who happened to be pregnant.

(Luke 2:1-5, My translation)

Only Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth includes the detail that Jesus was born during a Roman census but the detail seems to be particular important to Luke. He devotes more narrative space to it than he does the birth of Jesus itself (five verses to one by my count). As I reflected on this aspect of the story this morning, a new thought occurred to me. Could Luke be suggesting a parallel to the ill-fated census that David conducted in 2 Sam 24? One reason why this does not seem a remote possibility is that Luke has already shown considerable dependence on the structure and themes of 1 Samuel in his telling of the circumstances surrounding John the Baptizer’s conception and birth as well as the angel’s announcement to Mary and Mary’s response (the Magnificat, clearly modeled after Hannah’s song of praise in 1 Sam 2:1-11).

If this is so, what would be the point of alluding to the census David conducted in 2 Sam 24? First, David’s census was clearly both initiated and condemned by YHWH. Perhaps YHWH was testing David to see if he would cave into one of the many temptations of power – the temptation to measure, and perhaps increase, one’s strength by counting the number of his subjects, especially the number of able-bodied subjects suitable for military service and taxable subjects who could support the royal revenue. David did, in fact, initially succumb to this temptation thus bringing a horrible plague on Israel. How appropriately ironic, therefore, that David’s final and eternal heir should be on the receiving end of just such a census. What better way to contrast the way David ruled to the way the son of David will rule? Finally comes a Davidic King so secure in God, so countercultural to worldly power that it would never occur to him to conduct a census of his servants as a measure of his military or monetary potential.

God nevertheless used the occasion of David’s census to determine the location for the temple Solomon would build (1 Chron 22:1) just as God used Augustus’ census to determine the location where the living, breathing, mobile temple of the body of his son would first cause heaven to intersect with earth. Luke’s familiarity with the OT story and his ability to subtly weave its motifs and themes throughout his bios of Jesus of Nazareth is simply awe-inspiring. How much I have missed in previous readings of this account (and countless others) by not sufficiently situating it the broader sweep of God’s redemptive story from creation to new creation!


I confess to you my intoxication with worldly power. Even though I know it is a spiritual dead end (literally), I am nonetheless inexplicably drawn to it, sometimes even unconsciously participating in it. Forgive me! Lord Jesus, how sobering is your consistent and uncompromising rejection of worldly power. From cradle to cross you rule in way the world has never seen and with a power we have never experienced. The world’s strongarming and brutish manipulations pale in comparison to the might of your humility, gentleness, and love. Holy Spirit, put to death in me all of my longings for worldly power, recognition, and success. Nail all such affections to the cross that they may die there only to be replaced by the resurrection power of divine love, humility, gentleness, and holiness.