At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Jews had been under Roman rule since 63 BC. Luke records that Caesar Augustus proclaimed that the whole empire should be enrolled for tax purposes. Each person was to go to his ancestral city. Without understanding it, Caesar was fulfilling the prophecy of Micah that God’s appointed ruler for Israel would come out of Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary went to the city of David, because Joseph was a member of the tribe of Judah (probably Mary as well). Her son, Jesus, would be born with the full endorsement of prophecy and Davidic rank—He would have the rightful claim to the throne of David.
Matthew states that Mary and Joseph were engaged to be married. At the time, engagement was a binding arrangement, a man could call his fiancé “wife”, and it was assumed that the couple would be married (Matt. 1:20). Before they were legally united in marriage, Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant. To him, this could only mean she had been with another man. As a man of justice, he sought to divorce her. As a man of mercy, he sought to do so privately. At that point in time, God intervened in a dream and revealed to Joseph that the child was conceived by the Spirit of God, and told Joseph to marry her. He obeyed, giving Jesus full legal status before the law, as their legitimate son.
Previously, as recorded in Luke, the angel Gabriel came to Mary with a message. Calling her “favored one,” he proceeded to tell her that she would give birth to the Son of God. He would save people from their sins and be called the Son of the Highest. Apparently thinking in the normal framework of how births occur, she was incredulous. However, the angel clarified “The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and for that reason, the holy offspring will be called the Son of God.” Ultimately, he reminded Mary that to God, nothing is impossible. Her ultimate response was, “Let it be unto me according to your word.”
Mary must have treasured this in her heart, reflecting on this event as they traveled to Bethlehem. Her encounter with Elizabeth, soon to be Mother of John the Baptizer, may also have brought her comfort. Elizabeth’s unborn babe leaped for joy in the womb as the unborn child of Mary approached. What must she have expected as a suitable place for the birth of the Son of the Highest?
She must have been surprised to hear “There is no room in the inn.” Their resting place was a lowly manger where the livestock was kept. Whether or not she realized it, a pattern was emerging. She was a very young woman of low social stature. Bethlehem was a mere village, not held in high esteem. His birth was first announced to shepherds, not the religious or social hierarchy. When He laid aside his riches in Glory, He stooped to the most humble social position in the human race. He was also identified with the poor in his birth, in that the Shepherds were the first to hear the announcement.
Only later, were wise noblemen from the East guided to Him by a star. Their question upon arrival at Jerusalem in Matthew, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” caused a very different reaction in King Herod who feared a rival was born. The scribes, apparently dispassionate, told Herod that according to Micah’s prophecy, the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Leaving Jerusalem, the wise men were guided once more by the star. Apparently, no one from Jerusalem cared enough to follow them. This apathy toward the King of Kings was to be a pattern seen in the religious establishment of Jesus’ day. The only interest they showed was due to his potential threat to their superiority and position.
Some things have changed very little. The difference between "religion" and true relationship with God through Jesus continues to be divided by misunderstanding and a broad gulf of motivations. The former guards its position of power and superiority, looking down on those around it in contempt. The latter recognizes the level ground at the foot of the cross and bends knee to worship the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, born, not in a palace and carried on a steed, but brought to life in a manger amid the muck and mire of a fallen world... where the rest of us live and die.
He found us where we were, broken and imperfect, confused, on the road to destruction. He shined a light in the darkness to show us a better way, a road home, to intimacy with God and others. The way he came to show us is the way of love. We love, because he loved us first.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16
"In him was life, and the life was the light of men." John 1:4