The cooler day of fall came to Nazareth. A chill was in the air as Joseph returned to his modest home one evening after a hard day of construction work.
As Mary served the evening meal she saw that something was troubling her husband. Refilling his cup, she sat down beside him as he sipped the wine. Gradually the tired lines in his face eased away.
“What’s wrong, Joseph? Did things go badly at work today?”
“No, the walls are going up straight and right.”
“Then what is it?”
“Do you remember last month I decided you shouldn’t go with me to the Feast of Tabernacles at Jerusalem because of your condition?”
“Yes, I remember, and I know it’s for the best. I’m not anxious to take a chance of having my first child born on the way to Jerusalem. I’m willing to wait at home. Please don’t worry, dear. I’ll be fine. I’ll have good help if I need it, and Eliza and Martha have promised to take turns staying with me.”
Joseph shook his head, “We’ll have to change our plans.”
Her large eyes turned upon him in surprise. “Change them?”
“Yes. The Romans are taking a census. I just heard about it this afternoon.” He sipped the last of the wine and put down the cup. “The emperor apparently is suspicious that not every Jew is paying his taxes, and he’s ordered a census to be made. They’ve passed a law that requires everyone to go to register at his ancestral home” (Luke 2:1-3).
“To Bethlehem?” she asked. “You and I have to go to Bethlehem?”
“I’m afraid so.”
Mary turned the news over in her mind. Joseph and she were both descendants of King David and he was born in Bethlehem. “How soon is the census to begin?”
“At once!” He laid his large, rough hand gently over her small one. “It’ll be a hard trip for you.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be all right. Our donkeys are good animals. They’re surefooted. But, Joseph, where will we stay?”
“I’ve been wondering about that myself. Bethlehem will be filled with the overflow of travelers into the Jerusalem area for the Holy Days. We’ll have a hard time finding a room anywhere in the vicinity.”
“We’ll manage. It doesn’t do any good to worry. God will take care of us.”
He smiled. “My dear little Mary, your faith is so strong. You are so sweet. So strong and good.”
“No Joseph, it’s you who are strong and good.” They made preparations for their trip.
Joseph’s concern about finding lodging was well founded.
“Sorry, there’s not a bit of space left,” the keeper of the inn at the eastern edge of Bethlehem announced with a shake of his head. “We absolutely can’t take another family.”
Joseph looked toward the rows of walled houses and courtyards. Perhaps someone somewhere would make room for them. But he needed to stable his animals. He turned back to the innkeeper. “Would you have room for my two donkeys?”
“Yes I do. Take them around back to the stable. We don’t have much livestock this week. Some of the people came in on foot” (Luke 2:7).
After paying a small coin to the innkeeper, Joseph led his donkeys around the inn to a cave-like stable built into the hillside. Choosing a stall that was spread with fresh straw, he lifted Mary from her donkey.
She glanced about the quiet stable. “It’s half empty,” she observed.
“Uh huh,” Joseph replied, absorbed in unloading provision.
The donkeys began to pull hay from a manger. Mary smiled as she smelled the sweetness. “Joseph, why can’t we stay here?”
“Yes. It’s dry and warm. And it’s quiet.”
Walking over, he wiped perspiration from his brow. “No, I’ll knock on every door, if I have to, until someone takes us in”.
“But this is a lovely place. There’s a cistern over there that’s dripping water for the animals to drink. Let’s wash and have supper.”
They washed and then Joseph pulled large armfuls of hay from the manger to make a couch. They nestled together in its satisfying comfort and enjoyed dried fish, bread and raisins. That night Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ.
A myriad of angels hovered over the stable where the newborn Infant lay in a wooden manger. Thousands more of them appeared to a group of shepherds who were keeping their flocks on the Judean hillside. The angels sang praises to God for sending a Savior to the world, and told the shepherds where to find the Child (vs. 8-14).
Leaving their sheep with younger shepherds, they hurried into Bethlehem and found the newborn Baby in a stable as the angels had announced. They bowed before Him and worshiped.
When they returned to their flocks, they told other shepherds about the baby Savior they had seen. Their story spread quickly and it caused curiosity and skepticism among those who heard it (v. 17).
When the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day were over, the crowds began to leave the area. Joseph was able to find a house for his little family.
When the Baby was 8 days old, He was circumcised and named “Jesus” (v. 21). About a month later the parents took Him to the Temple at Jerusalem to present Him to the Eternal and make a sacrificial offering according to the law of God (Lev. 12:1-8).
King Herod the Great was restoring the Zerubbabel Temple, making it larger and more beautiful. King Herod began his work about 20 years before Jesus was born, and it was finished by another king in A.D. 64.
A devout man of God named Simeon came into the outer court of this Temple and stood watching the persons that passed in. The Holy Spirit of God that moves upon men’s minds had assured Simeon he would live to see the Eternal’s Christ (Luke 2:22-26).
Leaning against a pillar, Simeon waited and watched. An hour passed. Then two. He stiffened. A well-dressed couple approached, and the young woman carried a tiny Baby wrapped in a soft wool blanket. Her husband carried a small wooden cage that confined two doves. They obviously had come to make the sacrificial offerings to God as required at the birth of a child.
“Ah! Blessed be God, who has fulfilled His promised to me!” Simeon exclaimed as he stooped before the parents. Mary and Joseph watched in wonder as Simeon bowed.
“Excuse me. I won’t take much of your time, but I want you to know that this is the happiest day of my life! This Child of yours will bring salvation to all people.” Leaning down, he looked into the tiny face.
“You may hold Him, if you’d like,” Mary offered, seeing the old gentleman’s sincere joy. She placed the small bundle in his arms.
“Thank you, thank you.” He cradled the Infant closer to his heart. ‘Now I’ll die in peace. “I’ve seen the One who’ll bring salvation to the gentiles and to His own people Israel.” He murmured a blessing as he returned the Child to his mother’s arms. “This Child will be the downfall and triumph of Israel and he will be a sign that the world will resist. The true reasoning of many hearts will be revealed.”
Standing in amazement, Mary and Joseph marveled at the elderly man’s words. His eyes moved to her face. “Your soul will be pierced with sorrow as sharp as a sword.” Turning away, he moved off into the crowd.
“Strange,” Joseph said.
Before Mary could comment on the incident, a thin, white-haired woman spoke to them. She was Anna, a prophetess, and she thanked God that she had now seen the One for whom all Israel waited (vs. 36-38).
Meanwhile, a delegation of foreign dignitaries were on their way to Jerusalem, intent on their purpose of worshipping the new King of the Jews (Matt. 2:1-2).
When they arrived in Jerusalem from the east, they went directly to King Herod’s court to ask where they could find the new young King.
Troubled by their inquiries, King Herod called a meeting of the religious leaders of the day and demanded information about where the King of the Jews was to be born (v. 4). They quoted a prophecy in Micah: “Out of Bethlehem shall come a governor who will rule my people” (Micah 5:2).
Dismissing them, King Herod once more admitted the foreign travelers into his presence. He urged them to continue on to nearby Bethlehem saying that he, too, wanted to worship the young King. He asked them to report back to him if they found Him there.
But the dignitaries did not comply. Following angelic guidance, they found the young Child in a house (Matt. 2:9-10).They presented gifts of gold and precious spices to Him and then, being warned in a dream not to report back to King Herod, they left by a different route, avoiding Jerusalem altogether.
Be watching for the next installment of Stories from the New Testament.