The birth story of Christ starts with this verse: “In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to his town to register. For that reason Mary and Joseph had to return to Bethlehem to register.” (Luke 2:1) In a way, registry was a public declaration that one was born in and belonged to a particular place and group of people. Jesus was born in Bethlehem (the city of bread) because the prophets prophesied it would be his birth place. But it was a dangerous place and he lived his earliest years in the foreign country of Egypt until God told his family to return to their home in Nazareth.
When I was a child, my mother would say that the date on my birth certificate was wrong. I would ask her how that could have happened. Her tart answer was that there were a bunch of drunkards at the village administrative office. When my father went to the office a week after my birth, they wrote down the day when he went to announce it instead of my birthdate. It would have been a mighty tedious process to change it, so my birth certificate has had the wrong date for my entire life.
I have been returning to that place of my birth each year for the past five years and I have taken some of my family members there too. I have been living in Atlantic Highlands almost twice as long as I lived in the town of my birth. I’ve lived in the United States now for four-fifths of my life and I consider myself and my worldview to be American and, to a degree, internationalist. Yet, there is something important about one’s place of birth and registry.
I don’t live in the nostalgia of the past, because I have too much fun in the present. But, as a Russian author wrote, “the person who does not know the past rarely knows the present or, even less, where he wants to go in the future.” In visiting the place where I was born, I am reminded of the scrapes that I had with other kids, the late-night meetings, the various wells where I would go to get water, the fields where I worked as a child, the classrooms where I attended school, and my former professors (three are still alive, with one in her nineties).
Thus, my first registration was in my village. Then I was registered at my local school and then in a refugee camp. This was followed by registration as a green card holder, an American citizen, and a person who completed a bachelor’s, master’s and PhD degree. Then my name appeared on an ordination certificate, a marriage license, and on the birth certificates of my four children.
Some day in God’s sovereign will, there will be another registration on a death certificate. That can be a frightening thought unless one is sure that they are in the best registry: the book of the Lamb. Our names have been written there because Jesus Christ died for us; by believing in Him our names have been written in the Book of Life.