When Mary and Joseph began their journey southward to Bethlehem, they probably thought they had time to make the trip, register for the census, and then return home to Nazareth before the baby would be born.
When Mary and Joseph began their journey southward to Bethlehem, they probably thought they had time to make the trip, register for the census, and then return home to Nazareth before the baby would be born. The weather cooperated and a donkey carried their provisions, but the journey proved more lengthy than either of them had expected. Mary was soon to give birth.
By the time they reached Bethlehem, Mary was exhausted. To make matters worse, the tiny town was packed with travel-weary people. Joseph searched for lodging . . . nothing. One kind family agreed to let them stay in a stable. It was a crude shelter, but it kept them out of the elements. No doubt a low fire warmed the chilly night air.
Once they were settled, Mary rested while Joseph worked his way through the corrupt registration process. Too soon, a powerful, dull ache gripped Mary's abdomen. She called out for Joseph in a panic, but he would be gone for hours. She had attended many childbirths, so she calmed herself and arranged their little shelter in preparation for the baby. A spare tunic would be His swaddling; a little bed of fresh straw in the feeding trough would cradle the newborn infant.
As evening fell, her labor pains intensified and accelerated. Joseph returned from the city tax office to find Mary moaning through a bone-deep wave of pain. There are no pains like those of childbirth. None so intense. None so hopeful.
Perhaps it was well into the night when Joseph laid the tiny Hope of Israel in Mary's arms. For nine months prior to His birth, Mary had talked to the baby, sung to Him, felt His body move, and looked forward to the day when she could finally touch Him. Now she looked into His eyes—Immanuel, "God with us."
It's hard to know if, in those first hours, God gave Mary a brief premonition of years to come, when another would point to her Son and say, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" . . . or when that promise would be fulfilled and a sword of emotion would pierce her own soul. Anticipated or not, those days would surely come. Mary's little Lamb was destined for sacrifice. But tonight she held her baby close, kissed His soft cheek . . . and wept quietly in the wonder of it all.
See Matthew 1:23; John 1:29; and Luke 2:35.