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NOTE: See the descriptive account below the Scriptures.
Micah 5:2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
the one too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you one will go out for me
to be ruler in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from the days of long ago.
Luke 2:1-20 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
2 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus for all the inhabited earth to be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone went to be registered, each one to his own town. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.7 And she gave birth to her son, the firstborn, and she wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the lodging place.
The Shepherds and the Angels
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord gleamed around them, and they became very fearful. 10 And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring good news to you of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign for you: you will find the baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels departed from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went hurrying and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the statement that had been told to them about this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured up all these words, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.
21 And when eight days had passed, so as to circumcise him, his name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
The Nativity.—Augustus was sitting on the throne of the Roman Empire, and the touch of his finger could set the machinery of government in motion over well-nigh the whole of the civilized world. He was proud of his power and wealth, and it was one of his favorite occupations to compile a register of the populations and revenues of his vast dominions. So he issued an edict, as the Evangelist Luke says, “that all the world should be taxed,” or to express accurately what the words probably mean, that a census, to serve as a basis for future taxation, should be taken of all his subjects. One of the countries affected by this decree was Palestine, whose king, Herod the Great, was a vassal of Augustus. It set the whole land in motion; for, in accordance with ancient Jewish custom, the census was taken, not at the places where the inhabitants were at the time residing, but at the places to which they belonged as members of the original twelve tribes.
Among those whom the edict of Augustus thus from afar drove forth to the highways were a humble pair in the Galilean village of Nazareth—Joseph, the carpenter of the village, and Mary, his espoused wife. They had to go a journey of nearly a hundred miles in order to inscribe themselves in the proper register; for, though peasants, they had the blood of kings in their veins, and belonged to the ancient and royal town of Bethlehem, in the far south of the country. Day by day the emperor’s will, like an invisible hand, forced them southward along the weary road, till at last they climbed the rocky ascent that led to the gate of the town,—he terrified with anxiety, and she well-nigh dead with fatigue. They reached the inn, but found it crowded with strangers, who, bent on the same errand as themselves, had arrived before them. No friendly house opened its door to receive them, and they were fain to clear for their lodging a corner of the inn-yard, else occupied by the beasts of the numerous travelers. There, that very night, she brought forth her first-born Son; and because there was neither womanly hand to assist her, nor couch to receive Him, she wrapped Him in swaddling-clothes and laid Him in a manger.
Such was the manner of the birth of Jesus. I never felt the full pathos of the scene, till, standing one day in a room of an old inn in the market-town of Eisleben, in Central Germany, I was told that on that very spot, four centuries ago, amidst the noise of a market-day and the bustle of a public-house, the wife of the poor miner, Hans Luther, who happened to be there on business, being surprised like Mary with sudden distress, brought forth in sorrow and poverty the child who was to become Martin Luther, the hero of the Reformation and the maker of modern Europe.
Next morning the noise and bustle broke out again in the inn and inn-yard; the citizens of Bethlehem went about their work; the registration proceeded; and in the meantime the greatest event in the history of the world had taken place. We never know where a great beginning may be happening. Every arrival of a new soul in the world is a mystery and a shut casket of possibilities. Joseph and Mary alone knew the tremendous secret—that on her, the peasant maiden and carpenter’s bride, had been conferred the honor of being the mother of Him who was the Messiah of her race, the Savior of the world, and the Son of God.
It had been foretold in ancient prophecy that He should be born on this very spot: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel.” The proud emperor’s decree drove southward the anxious couple. Yes; but another hand was leading them on—the hand of Him who overrules the purposes of emperors and kings, of statesmen and parliaments, for the accomplishment of His designs, though they know them not; who hardened the heart of Pharaoh, called Cyrus like a slave to His foot, made the mighty Nebuchadnezzar His servant, and in the same way could overrule for His own far-reaching purpose the pride and ambition of Augustus.
by James Stalker