It is a detail at the heart of the Christmas story. A little over 2,000 years ago, a census was ordered by the Roman authorities, leading a craftsman called Joseph back to his hometown of Bethlehem – his pregnant wife Mary alongside him. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, the headlines are about another census. This one has shown that, for the first time, the number of Christians has fallen below 50 per cent of the population in England and Wales.
The news that Christianity has become a minority religion in these historically Christian nations has prompted much anguish among the churched. But should it? Is this really something we should be worried about – or are we missing the point?
To answer this question, we need to think about what it actually means to be Christian.
The first thing to dwell upon is the fact that Jesus and his immediate followers were not ‘Christians’ at all. They were Jewish. That is the box they would have ticked should they have been asked what religion they belonged to.
Going back to the Christmas story, some of the first people to openly declare Jesus as a king and worship him were the Magi. The box they would have ticked would likely have been Zoroastrian – an ancient religion from the area that is now Iran. God's kingdom is not always clearly defined.