Luke 2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
Caesar Augustus was the first, and possibly the greatest, of all the Roman emperors. He decreed a census, for the purpose of taxation, that reached all the way to Nazareth, where Mary and Joseph lived.
The timing was not ideal for Mary, since she was nine months pregnant. She would have to make a three day (seventy-five mile) journey, from Nazareth to Bethlehem, to register for the tax. She preferred to be at home, no doubt, in a safe and secure environment, surrounded by family. But she found herself on the back of a mule, praying for the baby and herself.
Life seldom goes the way we think it should, and this can challenge our faith. If God was in control, things would move in a smooth and orderly way. And because they seldom do, we wonder who is in charge. This story is helpful because, behind the decree of Caesar Augustus, we discover the decree of God: Christ would be born in Bethlehem.
But you, Bethlehem . . . though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times (Micah 5:2). The prophet Micah wrote these words several hundred years before Jesus was born, and we can calculate the odds of them coming true.
The population of the world, back then, was about two hundred fifty million, and there may have been a million towns. If so, the odds of identifying the exact town where the Messiah would be born was one in a million. If there were only a hundred towns, this would still be an impressive prophecy. And if there were a thousand towns, it would be even more impressive. But to identify the exact town, out of a million possible towns, is nothing short of divine.
But this prophecy tells us even more about Christ. His origins are from of old, from ancient times. Bethlehem would be the place of his birth, but since he was from heaven, his origins were ancient. Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, without beginning or end.
So God was in control, even when it did not seem that way. He made his plans in eternity past, and carried them out in time, through the decree of Caesar Augustus. The world is not out of control, and our lives are not out of control, because our God is in control. He always has been, and always will be.
Luke 2:6-7 [T]he time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.
Mary found herself in labor, then her water broke. Like many before and since, she gasped in pain, and pushed with all her might. Joseph watched as Jesus crowned and slipped into his waiting hands. Then he placed the baby in his mother’s arms, and Mary cradled Jesus to her breast. Her little Messiah began to nurse, and the love she felt for him can hardly be imagined.
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! (Isaiah 49:15), said God.
It would have been easier for Mary not to love her nursing baby than for God not to love us. The amazing thing about the Savior’s birth is not that Mary loved Jesus, but that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Some theologians speak of Mary as the Mother of God. This sounds wrong at first, but is actually right. They are not saying that Mary existed before God, or that God has his source in Mary. They are only saying that the one to whom Mary gave birth was truly divine. Since Mary gave birth to Christ, who is truly divine, she is called the mother of God in that sense. The one who came through Mary’s birth canal was God in human flesh—born to save us from our sins.
Luke 2:7b She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
A manger is a feeding trough for animals, and this is the only place where the Bible suggests that Jesus was born in a stable. If so, the animals did what animals do, and the stable smelled badly. But Jesus came into the stench of a stable because he loves us. And the stench of our lives will not drive him away. The one who came from heaven to earth will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
Reflection and Review
How do we know that God is in control?
How does God’s love for us compare to a mother’s love for her child?
How can Mary be the Mother of God?