2 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all [a]the inhabited earth. 2 [b]This was the first census taken while [c]Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a [d]manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
There is a dual thread within scripture that mankind is both possessed of a free will and yet God orders all things to His will. The prophets had pegged Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah and the priests of that day recognized it, as seen in Matthew 2 when they consult with Herod the Great and the Wise Men.
Thus far, however, we have been introduced to Mary who was engaged to Joseph, who both lived in Nazareth.
So Luke takes pains to tell us how exactly this couple from Nazareth made their way to Bethlehem. And it takes the form of a census, whereby each man was to return to the home of his ancestors to be counted.
This was an unexpected event. Joseph and Mary were likely young, their income was not extensive, and Mary was hardly in a condition to make the journey being near the time she was to give birth. Travel would be by foot. Maybe they had a pack animal with them or travelled in a group to make it slightly easier, but regardless; it would be a hardship to the young couple.
But it was where they needed to be.
I’m aware of how trite that sounds. In this case, their hardship was physical and financial, but it was a minor one in the grand scheme of things. There are other hardships in life that I look at and wonder why or how God could ever tolerate or allow such a thing. A good portion of theological thought has been spent trying to answer that question. I don’t think I can answer it well. The only thing I can point to, which is cold comfort for those truly suffering, is that they’re not the first to scream the question to the heavens as to why God has forsaken them.
They arrive and find the city overcrowded. Everyone is here. Joseph would probably have checked with his relative’s homes first. The hospitable host has to disappoint Joseph. Others have arrived first and the house is filled to capacity, but he offers the young couple use of his stable. It would not be comfortable, but it would have a soft place to lie down and be protection from the elements.
And so it was that the Lord entered the world: naked, crying, born to a poor couple in obscurity who were far from home (strangers), spending the night in a barn, with his first bed being a feeding trough, surrounded by farm animals, their smell, and their droppings.
And there is the mystery of the Incarnation: it is an expression of utter and complete humility by Christ. He was glorified from eternity, He gave it up. He was powerful, and He became the most powerless of creatures, a newborn, completely dependent upon Joseph and Mary for His continued existence. He was honored, now He would be unknown or bear the cultural shame of having questioned parentage. He was rich, He became poor.
And He did it, because He knew our condition and became one of us to share in it, so that He could share with us, His own life. So He could lend us His righteousness. So He could clothe us with His glory. So He could share His own death with us, and then share with us His resurrection.
He came down, to lift us up out of our mean estate of poverty, isolation, sin, and mortality.
And He did it because He loved us more than He loved Himself.
3 Do nothing [c]from [d]selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude [e]in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be [f]grasped, 7 but [g]emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death [h]on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The mystery of the Incarnation is its message. That we are loved so completely, so totally, that Someone would give up everything to make sure we knew it.