The birth of Jesus, promised saviour of the Jews and ultimately humanity, was foretold centuries earlier, but the manner, place and time of birth could never be guessed.
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
This was the era of Roman domination and a decree was issued ordering all people to go to their home town or state of origin if you prefer, to register their existence. This was the Roman way and their law had every bit of authority physically to make the Jewish nation register for the census as the Jewish faith had spiritually to require them to sacrifice offerings at the Jerusalem temple for the forgiveness of their sins. Luke’s specificity as to the names of the rulers is quite extraordinary, but really pegs the time and the place for any skeptical historians to satisfy themselves as to the historical context of the census.
History has been aptly called His Story, and God used the Roman census to achieve his purpose of making the place of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. One would expect some exceptions for seriously pregnant people to not have to travel in excess of 100km to their home town to register, but no such avenue was available or the pregnant Mary would certainly have stayed in Nazareth.
The honourable Joseph had long since committed himself to marry Mary, even though she was not pregnant by him, but rather by the Holy Spirit. He would have heard of Mary’s encounter and the promise of their son being the future eternal king, of the line of David, but called the Son of God. It has been suggested by some commentators that they were further motivated by Micah’s prophecy of the birth of Israel’s future ruler in Bethlehem.
It is almost unthinkable that Jesus, king of the cosmos, would be born in such humble circumstances. Instead of a cosy cot in a B&B, he was placed in an animal feeding trough in someone’s lounge, all that could be found thanks to the overcrowding as a result of the census. How wonderful that God chose to share the birth of his son with the ordinary people, and allow him to lie in an animal vestibule. Who would dare to script the birth of the king of kings in this way, but almighty God. What shall we say? Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her king.
Head: Think about the prophecy that Israel’s future king would be born in Bethlehem, and the fact that his parents resided in Nazareth. What would make them travel to their hometown for the birth of their son? God uses the rulers and customs of nations to achieve his purposes, as he did here with the census. Think of a few other prophecies around Jesus birth that could not be accounted for by mere coincidence.
Heart: How do you feel about Jesus, the king of kings, leaving the glory of heaven to save you? To be born in such humble circumstances to an ordinary couple, when he could have chosen an easier path by being born to someone in David’s line with more status and power?
Hands: Look for the opportunity to help someone in a manner that is outside of your comfort zone. For example: going to visit a sick person in hospital who you have heard about in your community, or perhaps someone in an aged care facility who never gets visitors.
Prayer: Thank you Lord for coming from heaven to earth to show the way, from the earth to the cross our debt to pay, from the cross to the grave, from the grave to the sky, Lord we lift your name on high. Praise you for being born in such humble circumstances, for the love you showed your people in the face of abuse, and ultimately for your faithfulness to God, in becoming obedient, even unto death. We can only bow down and worship you. Amen.
A song to listen to: Mercy Mercy