Luke 2:1–20 (NKJV)
1 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.Luke 2:1-7
4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
This passage begins with the language of fulfillment. “It came to pass” leads to the discussion of the fulfillment of prophecy. After the birth of John, six months later Jesus is born. Caesar was one of three leaders of the Roman Empire until he gained complete control and was awarded the title “Augustus” as supreme ruler. The census fulfilled prophecy, and Caesar unwittingly was instrumental in this fulfillment. The citizens were required to go to their primary or hometown place of residence. Joseph and Mary were originally from Bethlehem, and had to register there.
They were already betrothed, but had not consummated their marriage (due to the angelic prohibition in Matthew 1:18-25). Mary giving birth in Bethlehem is another fulfillment of prophecy. This account in Luke gives very little detail. There is no narrative of them being denied a room, and the description of the scene is sparse, speaking only of swaddling clothes for His newborn body, and a manger–feeding trough–for His bed.
8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 “Glory to God in the highest,Luke 2:8-14
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
There is a scene change in this story, with the attention turning to shepherds in a field at night, the night of Jesus’ birth. Initially, an angel appeared to them, bringing the good news of Jesus’ arrival on earth. Suddenly, a host of angels, a choir of sorts, appears with the angel, and they declare glory to God, and the advent of peace.
15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.Luke 2:15-20
Finally, the Lukan account describes the response of the shepherds after their angelic encounter. The angels departed into heaven and the shepherds determined to go to Bethlehem and see the baby born according to the angels’ announcement. They found Jesus and His parents in the stable. They worshiped, and then they spread the news abroad of His birth and the angels’ message to them. While the shepherds rejoiced and the city began to buzz, Mary pondered the events in her heart, beginning to build a powerful life of images and memories for which there is no rival.
This great entrance of Christ into the world signalled a sea change in how history, especially religious history, would be written. Jesus’ entrance in Bethlehem marked a dichotomy in the history of the earth. BC and AD split at His life. Law and Grace sit somewhat on either side of His existence. The cross signalled the greatest victory of all time. There has never been a birth that transformed the world in the way that Jesus’ birth did. As simple as this story comes across in its details, its effect on all of humanity is complex on every level. Rejoice, for Jesus is born!