A census is a most interesting and very important matter in national affairs. On a certain night the head of each household must record the names of all who stay that night in the house, together with other details concerning them. This census is used for many purposes today — for taxation, military, educational and other matters.
The Roman Emperors sometimes ordered a similar census to be made throughout the Roman Empire. At the time of which we now write the reigning Emperor was Augustus, and he three times ordered a census to be made at intervals of twenty years. The second of these was made at the time when the Angel’s words to Mary were about to be fulfilled.
The custom followed in taking this census in Palestine (and it was taken for the purpose of taxation) was for the father of a household to go to his native town or village and there be enrolled, and also give particulars concerning his family. Thus it was that when the decree went forth, Joseph, the carpenter at Nazareth, had to go to “the city of his fathers,” “the city of David which is called Bethlehem.”
The journey takes them south past Mount Tabor, Jezreel, Dothan, Samaria, Mount Ebal and Gerizim, Shechem, Bethel and Jerusalem.
Now only six miles separate them from Bethlehem, and shortly after passing Rachel’s Tomb they see before them the well-known houses built on the sides and top of a steep hill. Spread out below are the terraces for the growing of vines, pomegranates, figs, and olives, whilst in the valley, where a little brook runs, are the fields where Ruth once gleaned.
How pleased they are to climb the last steep ascent to the gate, by the side of which is the well whose water David desired to drink when the Philistines had made an inroad into Judea and pitched their camp at Bethlehem!
But the town seems very full of people. They reach the house where they had been wont to stay. The guest-chamber is already occupied. There remains but a cave (used partly as a kitchen, partly as a stable) in the hill against which the house has been built. Here it is that Joseph and Mary rest after their long journey. Here it is that Jesus is born. He who has had, and is to have, more effect upon the world we live in than any other person, was born in a stable, and laid in a manger.
The lowly birth was, however, accompanied by such wonders and signs as no other birth has been. God sent wonders and signs so that those who were willing to believe that this child was the promised Messiah should have evidence before them.
Though it was but early in the spring season, the shepherds around Bethlehem have led their flocks into the pastures among the hills, where they will remain through the spring and summer, until the former rains and the cold seasons cause them to return to their folds and caves.
A group of these shepherds were watching their flocks throughout the watches of the night, when, suddenly, the shadowy starlight of the eastern night was broken by the “glory of the Lord shining around them”. A brightness, greater than that of noontide sun, half-blinded those who watched, and awakened those who slept. An angel had appeared to these lowly men with the joyous message:
Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the City of David, a Saviour who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. (Luke 2:13-40)
from The Life of Jesus Christ by W.R. Mitchell
Read what happens next in Luke 2:13-40.