Life was carrying on as usual; or at least that’s what they thought. Joseph and Mary had settled into a routine after the disruptive messages they had each received from the angel. Several months and no further messages had certainly helped. The shock of learning about her pregnancy and morphed to joyful anticipation.
The citizens of the Roman Empire were accustomed to the Caesar enacting some new law. So it wasn’t too much of a surprise that Caesar Augustus was requiring a census to be taken. The only thing was Joseph had to travel from Galilee to Bethlehem because that was the city of his ancestors and Mary was almost to term with her baby. The distance they had to travel was about 80 miles. While the distance between Galilee and Bethlehem isn’t all that great, the tension between the Jews and the Samaritans and the risk of bandits, created a longer route. Because so many had to register for the census, caravans were formed and they traveled about 20 miles per day. Mary’s condition made the journey even more arduous.
When they finally arrive in Bethlehem, all lodging was already taken. Between the difficulty of the journey and the closeness of her due date, Mary’s time to deliver arrived. Mary and her women kinfolk had prepared for her delivery…in Galilee! Here she was, far from home and the comforts of her family, in Bethlehem.
Joseph begged the mercy of every innkeeper for a place so Mary could have some privacy and comfort. The only shelter Joseph found was a simple stable. This wasn’t the red barns we think of as stables or even a small enclosed shed. A stable was more like a crude lean-to; a place for the animals to have a little shelter from the elements. Hardly the place a young, scared women imagines having her baby.
In the meantime, the shepherds are having their “be not afraid” experience! They’re doing what they always do; tending their flocks of sheep and goats out in the fields. It’s a cold, clear night and they’re enjoying the beauty of the stars when an angel suddenly appears, telling them to not be afraid because they have wonderful news! The angel tells them about the birth of a baby in Bethlehem who is Christ the Lord. Once the angel delivers his news, all the heavens open up and a great multitude of angels descend singing their praises to God. Nothing, even remotely, had ever happened like this before and if there weren’t other shepherds witnessing the same thing, they might have thought something was wrong with them.
Babies were born all the time, but what was a Christ the Lord baby?!? What’s all this about peace on earth and God’s favor? One shepherd suggested they go to Bethlehem to verify what the angel said was true.
Sure enough. The shepherds did find Mary and Joseph and the newborn baby in the stable, just as the angel said. They shared what the angel had said of the baby to Mary, Joseph and the others who wondered why the shepherds had come into town (Luke 2:8-20).
A simple birth, in an unexpected place, with the unlikeliest of witnesses, and a most unusual message regarding her baby. And Mary takes all this in and ponders it in her heart. (Luke 2:1-20)
There is a simplicity and profoundness in the Christmas story. It’s not just a story for Christmas, but one that invites us to take time and ponder in our own hearts.
Christmas blessings to you!