Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 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, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
// Luke 2:1-7
The census of the entire Roman Empire was taken mainly for taxation purposes; the Caesar of the day was accounting for all the people over whom he ruled to ensure the future wealth of his empire. Meanwhile, a seemingly meaningless subplot was happening with an unknown Jewish couple from the family heritage of King David. By this time, many generations after David, Joseph and Mary would not have been feeling very royal. They were nomads, now driven back to Joseph’s old hometown to register for the census, and Mary was heavily pregnant with a mystery Child.
The writer of this gospel, Luke, does not describe in detail where Joseph and Mary looked for accommodation. We can assume, though, that many of Joseph’s relatives would have still been living in Bethlehem, as was the tight-knit family tradition within Semitic culture. It’s strange that Joseph was not living in his hometown in the first place, but stranger still that, upon his return with a very heavily pregnant Mary, they were not received into the home of a family member or a neighbor in all of the town. It’s clear that this pregnancy was frowned upon, with its confusing set of circumstances and no clear explanation as to who the father was. Joseph was now the illegitimate husband of an illegitimate wife, who was the mother of an illegitimate, unborn child.
Imagine the anxiety, the stress, the confusion, the fear. There must have been much dismay as the couple knocked on door after door, only to be told there was no room for them to rest, nor to birth their Child. The town would have been very full with the occurrence of the census, the streets hot, busy, dusty and dirty. The nights would have been cold, lonely, dangerous and dark, and Joseph and Mary were desperate to find shelter.
Mary and Joseph knew that God was up to something, but they couldn’t yet see what we now know to be God’s huge and wonderful plan. From the outside it looked like they were in Bethlehem due to political circumstances, but God was at work, fulfilling His own prophetic word that His Son was to be born in a stable in a town called Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph would have felt rejected, isolated and forgotten, not even being accepted in their hometown. Their rejection became their baby’s rejection; seemingly without His choice, this Child was being pushed into the most unique and isolated scene for a birth. The rejection of God by man had been going on since the very beginning, but this time it was different. Although they didn’t realize it, the people were again rejecting the Creator of the universe, the King of Kings. In a politically charged time in history with much oppression from all sides, here enters the Great Deliverer of humanity and he is welcomed by almost no-one. It was in God’s great manifold wisdom that He revealed His endless love through the rejection and weakness of man.
Still in His mother’s womb, the fullness of God dwelling inside a young girl, rejected by society. There was no home that would receive Jesus, to bring the birth of freedom for all of humanity.
Jesus knows rejection well. He knows anxiety – He felt His mother’s while in the womb. We know from medical science that a baby senses the stress hormones of its mother as they’re received via the placenta. The fetus’ developing brain receives this signal and interprets that there must be serious stresses in the external environment.
From the very start, Jesus placed Himself in the middle of our hurt and pain; He was born in the presence of our stress, He felt the fear of a desperate mother and the worry of a homeless father.
This young couple found a stable, Mary went into labor and so, amid tears of pain, rejection from society and fear of the unknown, she gave birth to Perfect Love. Perfect Love was born in the midst of human fear. And so it began, the day Perfect Love came to earth and drove out fear – and fear had no where to run. Perfect Love, Jesus. Oh, how great is His Love. Oh, how wonderful is His name. Oh, we cry out like a mother in labor, and in the middle of our pain and brokenness He is born into our lives, bringing joy, life and freedom, washing away our tears of pain and fear, replacing them with tears of joy. For unto us a Child is born. Perfect love drives out all fear. Welcome this Perfect Love into the inner most parts of who you are this day, this Christmas season.