As this season of Advent has begun, may our hearts turn towards the bustling town of Bethlehem and the sound of cattle and other barnyard animals as a young, betrothed woman prepared to give birth, in a humble stable, to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; Jesus the Christ child.
Many of us have heard this story year after year, but never really given pause to the full weight of the significance of each interlude.
Ladies, put yourselves in Mary’s shoes. You love God. You are a virgin. You are betrothed to a man by the name of Joseph who builds things for a living. You live in the town of Nazareth. There, you witness a spectacular sight, an angel of God, Gabriel, appears to you. After being nearly scared out of your skin by seeing a heavenly being, the angel assures you that you don’t need to be afraid—but have been found highly favored in God’s eyes.
Gabriel explained that Mary would become pregnant, as a virgin, by the Spirit of God. As Mary tried to wrap her head around this, the angel Gabriel shared that this child would be called the “Son of the Most High” and that His reign would never end. Mary asked how this could be possible. (She was a virgin, remember?) The angel assured her that with God, all things are possible. Mary exhibited incredible faith and trust in Almighty God as she acceptance this unexplainable feat (Luke 1:26-38).
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.” Luke 1:38 (NIV)
The angel of the Lord also visited Joseph. Try to grasp the love this man must have had for his betrothed, Mary. The period of betrothal is much different than Western cultures. When a couple is betrothed to be married, they had declared that they are committed to waiting for the other–until the resources and witnesses are in place to come together in marriage. Thus, to have a betrayal within engagement demanded a drastic punishment. Joseph, is left in an awkward place. He is going to marry this woman. Yet, now he is being told that she is pregnant with the Son of Almighty God. How would your fiancé react, if you were Mary? It is not like he could have just hopped online and asked if others had experienced this sort of thing before. This was a total blow to the male ego; feelings of betrayal and confusion must have swirled within his mind–not to mention that death was the expectation, by stoning, for such an act outside of wedlock within the Jewish culture (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). Although Joseph was betrothed to Mary, he was going to send her away quietly, because he loved her. Joseph did not want to publically see her shamed.
As he considered the logistics of divorcing Mary, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. He was then commanded by the angel to take Mary as his wife—even though she was obviously with child. The angel assured Joseph that Mary was indeed carrying God’s Son and that Joseph was to call the child Jesus—to fulfill the prophecy of old that a virgin will give birth to a son and His name is to be called Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14). Joseph, in great faith and obedience, heeded the command of the angel. Joseph took Mary as his wife, but did not know her until after she would give birth and he named the child Jesus in Bethlehem (Matthew 1:18-25).
“20But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23“BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” 24And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.” Matthew 1:20-25 (NASB)
In response to a decree from the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, all of the people within the Roman world had been ordered to return to their own towns to be counted. Joseph and very pregnant Mary enduring the arduous journey from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem within Judea. Bethlehem was known as “the town of David” (Luke 2:4) and Joseph was both of the line and house of David. This also fulfilled a prophesy of ancient days regarding the Christ child to be born within Bethlehem of the house of David (Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 11:1, Micah 5:2, Luke 1:33 & Revelation 22:16).
“In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it– one from the house of David– one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness.” Isaiah 16:5 (NIV)
As Mary and Joseph arrived into Bethlehem, the city bustled with activity from all the many traveling. Bethlehem was terribly overcrowded with visitors and finding lodging was a major issue. The whole Roman world had been moved around in order to carry out this royal census as desired by Caesar Augustus—and compliance to the decree was not a suggestion. No matter how great the inconvenience may have been to any given individual or family, each and every citizen within the Roman world had to obey this royal degree from Caesar Augustus.
The time had come for Mary to give birth to Jesus, but they still could not even find a place for her to labor and deliver—let alone lay down! Every bed and breakfast that they stopped at gave them the same response, “Sorry, no vacancy”. Finally, one owner of a B&B told Joseph that he did not have any vacancy, but that he did have a stable that would provide Mary with some relief while birthing the baby. They took the man up on the offer with sincere gratitude. Mary labored amongst the sites and smells of the livestock within a stranger’s stable. They welcomed baby Jesus into the world and Mary wrapped her newborn son in swaddling cloths. She then laid Him in a manger—which is a long, open box where barnyard animals ate their food (Luke 2:6-7).
“6While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:6-7 (NASB)
At this time, shepherds were protecting their flocks in the darkness of night from any natural predator that might try to steal away any wandering lamb. And then, suddenly, the shepherds were filled with great fear! The fields had become instantly illuminated with brilliant light! They saw an angel, surrounded by the glory of the Lord, and were scared out of their minds! The angel assured them that they did not need to be afraid, but rather needed to rejoice! On that very day, in the city of David (Bethlehem), the savior of the world—the Messiah—the Christ child had been born! They were instructed that they would find the child wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. At these words, a company of heavenly hosts appeared alongside the angel and began to praise God. Can you even imagine how wild this must have looked?! The illuminated sky above is suddenly filled with heavenly beings who are praising the Lord for the arrival of Jesus Christ, the savior of mankind!
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)
After the angel had left, the stunned shepherds looked at one another and agree that they needed to go to Bethlehem and see what the Lord has done. With great desire to see the Christ child, the shepherds hurried off to find Mary, Joseph and the baby who would be lying in a manger. Talk about an unsurpassable and supernatural display of celestial jubilee and excitement by the heavenly hosts! The God-Man, Jesus Christ, had officially entered into His own creation in the form of a babe! Christ the Lord was born!
As the shepherds arrived to the stable, with dirtied clothing and scruffy appearance from living amongst their sheep in the fields, they entered to view the Christ child. And just as the angel had said, baby Jesus was wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger! The shepherds marveled at this. They recalled the magnitude of this child’s arrival, as stated by the heavenly hosts. With celebration in their hearts, they left the stable telling everyone within crowded Bethlehem what the angel had shared to them regarding this child. Mary, now a mama for the first time, treasured all of these things in her heart. God was fulfilling the promises that she too had been assured of by the angel (Luke 2:8-20). How faithful is the Lord Almighty!
(End of Part I)