Augustus is part of this story! I am adding him as a reminder (to myself) that God is in control even of power-hungry political figures (Democrat and Republican). The census is more than just taxation. Augustus gets to know how many people he controls, a true “power trip”. Even with Roman roads and a courier system, the thought and decree were probably started more than a year in advance of Jesus’ birth. Herod was also part of Augustus’ handiwork.
I have a feeling Joseph was a practical man and would not have chosen that long trip unless he was made to do so. Mary had already walked to Bethlehem once before she was “great with child” and would not have looked forward to a bouncy trip on the back of a donkey. Prophesy, however, had to be fulfilled, Jesus was not to be born in Nazareth. Caesar had to be part of the plan or Mary and Joseph would have stayed where they were!
If I was scripting a scene for a movie, Augustus’ part would have been the introduction. All you would have seen was him signing a scroll and ordering an official to get it out fast. The camera would then pan up to show Father God saying to Jesus, “Good, that is started are You ready?”
Further Thought – When has God used political problems to advance the Gospel?