The Time Came for the Baby to be Born
Luke chapter 1 contains the backdrop to the coming of Jesus into this world. It contains plenty of Old Testament fulfillment comments, priests and descendants of David, an angel and two great prophecies – but no Messiah. Mary was promised to be the mother of Jesus. She is a young Jewish girl living in an unimportant town in Galilee. She is betrothed to a man named Joseph. Mary accepted this privilege by saying that she is the Lord’s humble servant.
Chapter 1 concluded with Zechariah’s prophecy of the Messiah. He will come from the house of David, to save Israel from her enemies. He will be a rising sun from heaven to shine on this dark world and make clear the path of peace.
These 7 verses contain no dialogue. They paint the landscape for the birth of Jesus from the highest people in power to the lowliest servants unable to even score a room among relatives.
- 1-3 What Kings do
- 4-5 What Servants do
- 6-7 The Quiet Arrival of God’s King
1-3 What Kings do
“In those days…” These would be the days of chapter 1. At the time of John’s arrival.
“Caesar Augustus issued a decree…” Luke gives us some historic data to work with (see Luke 3:1). It’s good to remember that the Christian faith is based on real times and places with real people and is therefore able to be affirmed or disproved. Caesar Augustus was the first Emperor of Rome and great-nephew to Julius Caesar. Like many or all of the emperors, he held the status of ‘son of God’ and the bringer of peace. Without knowing this, and only relying on Luke’s account, we can easily see that Caesar Augustus had power over the whole Roman world and wished to know exactly who was in his kingdom. He was a powerful man and able to order Joseph and Mary.
“This was the first census…” The exact year of this census is unclear since there is little cross-reference material in history to check it against. It’s probable that it was between 6-4 B.C. Josephus talks of a census by Quirinius in 6 A.D. but this is possibly a different census.
“And everyone went to their own town to register.” Here is the backdrop to the birth of Jesus. Augustus the Great was ordering everyone in his kingdom to go and be counted. And the world listened. He is a king established through power-struggle, battle, and political agenda. One of his ‘subjects’ will be born a King because he is.
4-5 What Servants do
“So Joseph went…” The king ordered and so Joseph went.
“…to Bethlehem the town of David…” We already know that Joseph is from the line of David (Luke 1:27) and that the coming redeemer of Israel will come from the house of David (Luke 1:69). Now we have the descendant of David reunited with the birthplace of David. Joseph goes back to the town where Israel’s King is born.
Bethlehem is 9km South of Jerusalem. It is the town where Jacob’s wife Rachel was buried (Genesis 35:19). The story of Ruth and Boaz centres around the town of Bethlehem and they became the grandparents of David. Micah 5:2 proclaims that the Messiah will come out of Bethlehem.
“He went to register with Mary…” So, in only 5 verses, Luke has relocated Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem and confirmed finally that Mary is with child. Just as Mary is the humble servant of the Lord, she is the humble servant of Caesar.
6-7 The Quiet Arrival of God’s King
“…the time came for the baby to be born…” Just reflect on how simply and inconspicuously the saviour of mankind enters the world! Luke has been priming us for the arrival of the Messiah and when he comes it is just another baby born into the world.
“…she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.” This baby is human and the loved child of Mary. These remarks are simple but important to Mary, as with any new mother. Her son has been born. To any onlooker, this would just be another child, but the reader, Theophilus, knows who this child is.
“She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger…” This baby, the saviour who will take away the sins of the world, is cared for by his mother. What an amazing baby she had held and fed and gone through labour for. With all the great history of the Old Testament – Moses and the prophets writing about the coming redeemer – and here he is in the arms of a poor little girl. And he has no bed to lie in.
“…there was no guest room available for them.” Or ESV: “…there was no place for them in the inn.” The Bible Background Commentary (IVP) provides a helpful conclusion that Mary and Joseph were likely staying with relatives but that so many relatives had returned to Bethlehem that there was no space left in the guest room. The traditional story of inn-keepers turning Joseph away is a fun one but based on an uncertain translation.
The fulfillment of God’s promises and his kingdom of redemption comes subtly and humbly. Humble parents bringing the child of promise into a world of little certainty. Augustine fought for his reign and measured his success on the size of his kingdom. Mary and Joseph could not secure a crib even among relatives. But the baby of promise came.
- God shows no favouritism. With the contrast between the rulers of the world and Joseph and Mary, God selected virtual ‘nobodies’ to bring the King of Kings into the world! This is a truth echoed in Acts 10:34 and in James 2. He welcomes all to come to his kingdom and he displays no favouritism toward the rich and powerful. Like Luke 1:48, God is mindful of the humble. Let us not show favouritism.
- God shows humility. Philippians 2:5-11 gives the nature of Jesus’ incarnation as an explicit example of true humility. In what ways does the poem in Philippians exalt humility?
- Counting our blessings. Mary and Joseph were far from home, close to the bottom of the social food-chain, and making use of animal food troughs for a crib. And yet they looked after the treasure that God had given to them. They held in their hands the only important thing in the world – salvation. Colossians 2:6-7 points the Christian pathway toward an overflowing of thankfulness. How can you put aside your hardships and give thanks to God for the good things he has done and is doing? Is salvation at the forefront of your mind when you think of praise points?
Prayer of the Week
Father God, help us to be thankful for the things you have done. For bringing peace into this world through your Son and for letting us carry the good news in this world, we give you thanks and praise. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.