Her mother had told her what she could expect. She had done her best to make preparation. The cradle, the linens, and the baby supplies had been gathered and arranged neatly in anticipation of the grand event. But then, the summons had arrived. Caesar Augustus had decreed that those living under Roman rule were to be taxed. Joseph and Mary were required to undertake the 4 to 5 day journey to Joseph’s homeland, which was Bethlehem, where they would be counted in the census and forced to pay the mandated tax.
Mary had no choice but to make the trip, even though she was in the final days of her pregnancy. She undoubtedly expected to return to Nazareth before her time to give birth arrived. The journey was difficult. The roadways were extra busy as many fellow Jews journeyed to their ancestral regions. Local merchants, taking advantage of the caravans, had lined the thoroughfares with carts selling their merchandise. Mary was grateful that fresh dates and pomegranate juice could be easily purchased.
Joseph was attentive and dutiful to Mary’s every need. He loved her. He showed his love in countless thoughtful ways, which made the arduous trip more bearable. Yet, in spite of all his efforts to arrange their circumstances to minimize her discomfort and concern, the unexpected occurred. Mary began labor.
They had passed Jerusalem. Bethlehem had come into view just as the sun was setting. Joseph knew that he must procure lodging. He searched and inquired; but he could find no vacant rooms. Because of his fervency and the imminence of her delivery, one inn-keeper showed mercy and offered an outdoor covering where he stabled his livestock. Although Joseph wished he could provide better accommodations, the stall would at least give shelter.
As her labor progressed, Mary attempted to erase her mental image of the cradle sitting in her home in Nazareth. She had to repress her disappointment that her ideal and imagined daydreams had been shattered by this harsh reality. She had to concentrate on the birthing instruction that her mother had given. She must be ready to deliver her new son.
Her new son – she knew she would have a baby boy because the angel, Gabriel, had told her about this child, her role, and God’s salvation that would be accomplished through this long-anticipated Messiah. How could that which had begun with such supernatural splendor have led her to such natural difficulty? How could the glory of the celestial have been reduced to the humility of such a visceral reality? Yet, the straw, the animals, the night sky – and the contractions – reminded her. She would give birth in a Bethlehem stable.
Then he was born. Jesus was born. “You shall call his name Jesus,” the angel said. “And he shall be great and will be called the Son of the Most High . . . and of His kingdom there shall be no end.” As Mary gazed upon her child’s face, the words of Gabriel echoed again in her ears. She did not have to attempt to recall his advice. She remembered. The sight of her son reminded her of his destiny and her part in the eternal plan. Somehow, that viewpoint of the heavenly overshadowed the harshest realities of the earthly.
Mary treasured the night with all its unexpected circumstances. She pondered everything in her heart. Perhaps, God delights in birthing promises from a manger of obscurity. Maybe, the great shepherd should begin his work in a manger. Surely, the redeemer was destined to seek out the lost sheep in the world. Mary wondered how many unexpected difficulties lie ahead as she journeyed with her son from Bethlehem to the place where He would birth salvation for the world. From the obscurity of the manger, Calvary came into view.