Such a Humble Beginning
So Joseph and Mary are expecting the Messiah. But there is one problem. Joseph and Mary live in Nazareth in Galilee, north of Judea, with Samaria sandwiched in between. The Prophet Micah had prophesied some seven-hundred years prior that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (5:2). And Jesus said himself that “until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). So God has to move Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem. (When I say, “God has to,” I mean to fulfill his own word, not that He has to because of some external constraint, of course.) So the Almighty “Constrainer” who rules heaven and earth constrains mighty Caesar Augustus, God’s puppet in the petty city of Rome (for all rulers rule by His will and all earthly cities are mere hovels before His Majesty) to decree that the “all the world” be registered for a tax. The significance of this is the Jews of that day considered themselves not residents of where they lived but residents of their ancestral town. And as Joseph was of the house of David (fulfilling the prophecy that the Christ must come from David’s line, Psalm 89), he must now travel to Bethlehem, the city of David, with Mary in full bloom and ready to deliver, riding on a donkey, a fact that makes my wife cringe.
So we learn from this that Augustus (the “majestic one”) obeyed God (the Majestic One), whether he realized it or not; that is, our God is sovereign and does what He pleases, setting up kings and then removing them (Psalm 135:6; Daniel 2:21). Furthermore, all of Israel was in route to someplace else in Israel for the registration—quite an inconvenience—but if God has to move heaven and earth to get Joseph and Mary from Point A (Nazareth) to Point B (Bethlehem), well then, so be it. I rather like that.
The beauty of this passage lies in its simplicity. The greatest miracle that shall ever happen on earth occurs with no fanfare. The Son of God takes upon himself our humanity, and, because there is no room in the inn with pilgrims piling into Bethlehem for the registration, Joseph resorts to a stable so that his wife may at least be out of the wind and weather. I would have been scared out of my mind, but I like to think of these two as having complete faith in God. So the Son of Man is delivered and laid in a feeding trough. And with the exception of some outcast shepherds, no one knows or seems to care. And this is how God came into HIS world: from the grandest majesty to the utmost humility.
We live in a time of the cult of self-esteem—when people think they deserve recognition and adulation. Maybe if we took more time to meditate on how God came into the world and then lived a very hidden life in Nazareth for thirty years, perhaps we would see how little praise we could live with as we found ourselves in giving Him all the praise.