It was in those days that the powerful Roman ruler across the seas, Caesar Augustus, issued his taxation decree that a census should be taken and we must record our names at the town of our family of origin. Any Caesar was no friend of my people the Jews. The Roman occupation of our homeland had troubled our people for generations. We resented their presence, for they forced the people of Israel into submission through heavy taxes and strict laws governing our movements.
As an example, with this decree sent from Caesar, for me, this meant a long journey south into the hill country of Judea, to the town of Bethlehem, the ancestral city of David’s birth. It took four days to make the journey, in your terms, think of walking 80 miles, perhaps from here into the big city to the east. Mary was well along in her pregnancy and we knew the journey to Bethlehem would be difficult. I tell you the truth though, it was good to leave Nazareth. People had begun to talk about this pregnancy which came so quickly during an engagement. Even though we knew we were in the full blessing of the Lord, people’s words can still hurt. Our child was given as a gift. People’s words were given as thoughtless babble.
Bethlehem seemed to be just the place to step away into a quiet place where people did not know us by name, where we could have our baby in peace and quiet. We packed many belongings for the trip, thinking we would be away for weeks, even perhaps a few months, preparing to live in Bethlehem for a while after the baby was born, until Mary was strong enough to make the return journey. Little did we realize what the Lord was preparing for us ahead as fulfillment of many prophecies from of old. Mary rode upon our old donkey and I walked alongside.
We traveled southeast from Nazareth, along the great plain of Esdraelon, into the valley of Jezreel, and down into the Jordan river valley. The name “Jordan” in our language means “that which goes down and down”. This river valley drops and drops and then drops some more. From the heights of Mt. Hermon in the north where you can find the headwaters of the Jordan river, down through the Sea of Galilee, down and further down runs this rift valley into the lowest place in our corner of the world, at the Sea of the Arabah, what you know as the Dead Sea. Following the verdant Jordan River valley south for a few days, with the heights of the Hill Country of Ephraim to our right, we finally came to Jericho.
Then the road turned to the west, traveling up and up, through steep ravines and rocky valleys leading up into the Hill Country of Judea and into the city of Jerusalem, which was built upon the uneven rocky plateau we call Mount Zion. The way was familiar to us because of our regular trips to Jerusalem for annual holy festivals to the Lord. Still, to travel this way while full-term pregnant, we went slowly, with every bump and stone an additional weight and pain for my beloved wife Mary. Our arrival in Jerusalem was of course a great joy, to return to the House of the Lord where all the world gathered to worship the Holy One of Israel. After resting for two days in Jerusalem, we had a short travel day south to arrive in Bethlehem, the ancestral city of our forefather David, hoping to find a room for rent. Bethlehem was overloaded with many other travelers responding to the Roman decree. Though small in size, Bethlehem is great in influence.
All those who are descendents from the lineage of David of Bethlehem, and we are many, take great pride in our heritage and association with the house of David and the city of Bethlehem. Now, we had all returned within the same month to register our names for the Roman census. The place was overflowing with people, including all the places of lodging. Private homes, guest houses and public inns were all filled, no vacancies.
After searching throughout the city, I came back to Mary with no lodging. There was no empty bed in the whole town. I was tired, weary and afraid for my Mary. I told Mary all my heart. She calmed me with her great faith, simply saying the Lord would provide. Yes, the good Lord above provided alright. But what a strange Provider he is sometimes! We were offered shelter in a storage cave where the people kept their animals. Just as the city was crowded, so this stable cave was crowded with all the people’s animals. We use our animals for transport, perhaps as you use cars and trucks and such. So there we made preparations for the birth of the Messiah, the Christ, our firstborn son, there in a crowded place used to keep animals, perhaps for you something like preparing to deliver a baby in a messy garage.
The good Lord did provide abundantly for us in that place, and Mary gave birth to a healthy baby boy, our little Yeshua, Jesus, the One sent to save us from our sins. The birth was without any complications, though we did not have the assistance of our well-loved village midwife! With newborn Jesus in her arms, Mary’s eyes filled with tears of joy. She treasured the gift of the Lord, a gift given not only to us, but to the whole world, to all who will receive Him, making room for Him in their hearts.
When I first saw this child, my heart was moved with joy. I counted his little fingers and then his toes. Perhaps it was the beauty of that little boy; perhaps it was the amazement at knowing we held in our care the long awaited Messiah, the bright Morning Star whom God had sent to shine upon all those who are living in the shadow of death to guide our feet into the path of peace. I am not known as an emotional man, but that night, I wept sweet tears of joy. Here am I. A working man. A carpenter. A modest man of modest means. What do I have to offer? What do I know about raising a child, about raising the Son of God sent from heaven? Yet, at the time of the birth of the Christ child, our firstborn, Jesus, such a great peace of God came upon us. To know in our heart of hearts the Shalom peace of the Most High God, for he himself is our peace! All this took place in that humble place, in that little town of Bethlehem. “O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray, cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today!” Amen!
Note: Based upon Luke 2:1-7; Matthew 2:6; Micah 5:2-5