The Census

One of the blogs I've been following through advent is Patrick Comerford's "Art for Advent", and a particular favourite post was the one on the ‘The Census at Bethlehem’ by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, first because I like Bruegel in general, and second because this picture captures the political import of the census noted by Luke... 
Bruegel translates things to his own time and country, the Netherlands, at that time ruled, with a certain level of ruthlessness, by Spain. Snow has fallen (snow on snow), but that does not deter the census-takers. 
We often miss the fact that Augustus' census, like any census, is not about keeping some sort of record for posterity, but is an instrument of policy... and for both the Romans and the Spanish whom Bruegel lived and worked under, it was tied to taxation and social control. Augustine's census was a marker being laid down that the Roman Empire was in charge (even if Herod the so-called Great was still ostensibly the King)... But the angel's announcement to the shepherds later on in the same chapter, was a marker laid down that the Messiah had come and that God's Kingdom was on it's way... a kingdom that would be bigger than any empire... Roman, Spanish, British, American, News International, Tesco, Google...
There are 3 key resources that earthly empires require to function... Military might, material wealth and information....
But the Kingdom of God doesn't have to gather information by way of a census (I say that in the week that our church membership figures should be reported), or wealth by means of taxation (or Sunday offerings), nor does it rely on military might to expand and maintain its borders... even though it would have armies of angels at its disposal...
The Kingdom of God came cloaked in the form of a baby... among the poor and oppressed.
And still does...

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