“And she gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” -Luke 2:7
It was the most important birth ever! Mary had traveled a lot of miles in this journey even though she was eight to nine months pregnant; her husband traveled on foot, and she rode on a donkey. One way to help start labor today is to go out and ride a horse. I imagine a multiple-day trip of 90 miles on the back of a donkey could work very well to kick-start labor. Actually, it is amazing Mary would get as far as Bethlehem before going into her first labor. But God’s hand and the truth of the prophecies were very much in the mix; this baby would be born in Bethlehem!
Having barely arrived, there was no time to acquire proper lodging. Hoping to find a room with some privacy in an inn for travelers, they found it overly full. The only shelter available where other humans were not was with the animals; hence a stable with a feeding trough of hay.
In a non-sterile environment, the Son of God entered the world in the flesh. It was quite a poor entrance into the home of man, and it certainly was not a comfortable place for a first-time mother to give birth and find rest, and then, on top of all that, to entertain immediately unexpected visitors. Joseph and Mary were certainly wondering what to expect after such a mysterious conception and a pregnancy where Mary had spent significant time “out of town” at the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah, minimizing questions. But they had no idea that just after giving birth, visitors would descend on them.
Why was Mary even here in Bethlehem at this critical time instead of at her or Joseph’s home in Nazareth? A taxing census, highly questioned by critics, had forced this situation upon the couple. Without providing the myriad details about whose or what census it was, there are quite probable evidences that it was a Caesar-directed census, under the regional supervision of military commander Quirinius in his first assignment in Asia.
It is not known if Mary was required to accompany Joseph, but it is probable that, knowing the awkwardness of her pregnancy and Joseph’s unwillingness to subject her to the behavior and comments of neighbors, it was best for Mary to go with Joseph, who most likely planned to remain in Bethlehem to avoid as much as possible the uncomfortable occasion of the birth of an “illegitimate” child in their hometown of Nazareth. This is just the orchestration of events by God to ensure Jesus was born in “the city of David.”
Luke, the loved physician, was chosen by God to interview Mary much later for her eyewitness testimony concerning the Infancy Narrative of Jesus’ birth, circumcision, protection, and known childhood experience. He was a historian extraordinaire following his Gospel with his history of the early church.
But not unlike what happens with many other births of the children of friends and relatives, Mary and Joseph had visitors welcoming their new son, even though they knew them not. God invited them. They were neither important nor rich visitors but rather common and poor, and they came into a very stark situation. But they came to worship, regardless of the poverty circumstances. They were comfortable with poor, but joy and awe in abundance were their emotions!
These shepherds, no matter how many there were, shared with the parents the most unusual and actually spectacular announcement of the angels while they were with their sheep, creating for Mary and Joseph much more to ponder. Jesus’ parents knew very well they were in a remarkable situation to say the least.
Why was Luke chosen to research and commit to writing these so-called “Infancy Narratives” of Jesus? Was it because he was a physician who was also a disciple? In any case, he must interview Mary, the sole eyewitness still alive, and capture all which the Holy Spirit wanted him to write, since he himself was not an eyewitness of either the birth or what later took place after. Nor was he privy to a “lost” 12-year-old Jesus, found at the Temple among the rabbis. Luke was an excellent historian, however, as we conclude from his Gospel account and the book of Acts.
Interestingly, Matthew is the writer who alone commits to papyrus the angelic dream to Joseph concerning Mary, his betrothed, the naming of Jesus, and then the journey and visit of the Magi with the soon slaughter of the baby boys in and around Bethlehem. The Holy Family sojourn in Egypt and eventual settling in Nazareth was to avoid Satan’s plan to destroy Jesus. Why did Luke have nothing to say about the Matthew 1 and 2 accounts including these Magi-events since they were all well-known to Mary? These are questions to be answered in eternity and there are good reasons for the whys we ponder.
We are intrigued and blessed by the revelation of Jesus’ entrance into the world, attended by the arrows of an evil enemy. You would have no celebration of the nativity without Luke and Matthew’s accounts. Christmas has entranced the world for centuries even among non-believers. It has been a powerful witness to who Jesus is and more evidence of the Savior and Lord before a fallen world. Christmas celebration is nearly universal, from rising to setting sun throughout the world. Do not allow the commercial trappings to obscure the reason for you to worship Him, an adoration of the One who came to be your Savior.
“He came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all, and His shelter was a stable, and His cradle was a stall. With the poor, and mean, and lowly, lived on earth our Savior holy.”
(2nd verse of Cecil Francis Alexander’s hymn, “Once in Royal David’s City,” 1848)
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