Luke is one of the writers who give us the Christmas story. He writes, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world” (Luke 2:1). The story begins with the mention of Caesar Augustus. He was the 19-year-old nephew of Julius Caesar. Julius was murdered, but he named his nephew Gaius Octavius as his sole heir. Most paid little attention to this teenager, but by the age of 32 he had become the first emperor of Rome. He was ambitious and brutally cruel, a common trait of the emperors. The senate eventually proclaimed him Caesar Augustus which meant they proclaimed him god. He accepted worship, and those who refused to worship him were either beheaded or crucified.
Augustus was the most important person in the world, or at least that is what he thought, but in reality he was just a piece of lint on the page of biblical history. If he had known who was about to enter the stage of human history, he would have sent all 28 Roman legions to kill a baby about to be born in a very obscure place. He had no idea that God was about to unsheathe his most important gift to the world around this time we call Christmas. Isaiah calls Jesus a “Polished Arrow”:
Isaiah 49:2-3 He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
and concealed me in his quiver.
3 He said to me, "You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will display my splendor."
Mary and Joseph, like all their fellow countrymen, lived under the heel of the Romans. Caesar called for a census which meant he was numbering the men for his armies and he wanted higher taxes. The Caesars always wanted more money. Caesar thought the census was about his coffers and his high mighty plans for his kingdom, but this was really about bringing a humble carpenter and his wife who was nine pregnant to the place they needed to be at just the right time.
Micah 5:1-2 "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."
The difference between Christ our deliverer and conqueror and the world’s greatest conquerors is like night and day. Christ does not come with physical weapons of destruction and intimidation, but with his word that is like a sharpened sword. Jesus had been hidden like an arrow until the precise moment; then God sent his son into the world with divine accuracy. God’s chosen servant displays the splendor of God.
Luke 2:1-9 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
God’s sovereignty brought Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem. This town was Joseph’s town. Both Joseph and Mary were Jewish. Both had most likely been shunned by their neighbors and families; that is probably why none of their families are ever mentioned in scripture. They now find themselves in a perplexing situation, “Do we stay here or do we obey Caesar and go to Jerusalem?” They went to Bethlehem so Joseph could register even though Mary was nine months pregnant. When they arrived in the tiny town of Bethlehem, they were exhausted after an almost eighty mile trip.
The only place available was the place sheep were kept. What was it like?
The sheep corral was as fifthly as only an eastern sheep corral can be. It reeked pungently with manure and urine accumulated across the seasons. Joseph cleared a corner just large enough for Mary to lie down on the ground. Birth pains had started. She writhed in agony on the ground. Joseph in his inexperience and unknowing manly manner did his best to reassure her—his own outer tunic would be her bed. Perhaps there was a saddle-bag nearby for her pillow—hay, straw, animal fodder non-existent. Mary moaned and groaned in the darkness of the sheep-shelter. Joseph swept away the dust and the dirt from a small space in one of the hand-hewn mangers. It’s a feeding trough. In a feeding trough carved from the soft limestone rock. It was covered with cob-webs and debris fallen from the rock ceiling. There as best he could he arranged a place where Mary could lay the new born babe all bundled up in the swaddling clothes. There alone unaided without strangers or friends or family to witness her ordeal in the darkness Mary delivered her son. A more lowly or humble birth it is impossible to imagine.
May God give you a greater appreciation this Christmas season for Jesus—God’s Polished Arrow that he sent to Bethlehem to save us from our sins.