February 20, Friday
Meanwhile in Rome, Caesar Augustus decreed that everyone in the Empire should be registered for tax purposes. So throughout the Middle East, everyone had to travel to their home city. That meant Joseph and Mary would have to go to Bethlehem, about 80 miles south of Nazareth. As they approached the village, she realized the birth was imminent; so they looked for a suitable room but were unsuccessful. The best they could do was to turn an animal shelter into a make-shift birthing center.
That night some shepherds doing night-watch were shaken out of their slumber by a burst of light. The whole sky was ablaze with light! An angel of the Lord was standing before them and said, “Don’t be afraid! I have exciting news for you and for people everywhere! Just now, over in Bethlehem, a Savior has been born! He is the long-promised Messiah! Look for a newborn child, wrapped up snugly and lying in a manger.”
No sooner had the angel made this announcement than the bright sky was filled with thousands of angels, like a choir, saying, “Glory to God on high! Peace and blessing to mankind on earth!”
And then the scene was over. The angels had gone and the night sky returned to normal. Quite motivated by this, they said, “Let’s go NOW! We’ve got to see what the Lord has just announced!” And they ran toward the village. They found everything just like they’d been told. With hearts full of worship, they exuberantly shared their story with everyone they met before returning to their flocks. The townsfolk marveled, but Mary cherished these stories in her heart.
On the eighth day, when He was circumcised, they gave Him the name Jesus, as the angel had instructed Mary before He was conceived.
After forty days (the Jewish purification period following the birth of a son), they took Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Old Testament Law prescribed that firstborn sons, who technically “belong to the Lord,” be redeemed by presenting an animal sacrifice. Poorer folks could substitute a pair of turtle-doves or young pigeons. This is what Jesus’ parents brought with them.
As they approached the Temple, an elderly man named Simeon introduced himself to them, explaining that God had revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before seeing the promised Messiah. That very morning the Holy Spirit had urged him to come to the Temple, and he’d arrived about the same time as Joseph and Mary with their infant Son.
Tenderly, Simeon took the baby from His mother and held Him. As he gazed at the infant face, he prayed, “Lord, now You can take me Home. Just as you promised, my eyes have seen the One You prepared to bring salvation to the whole world!” As he handed the child back to Mary, Simeon prophesied saying, “Your Child will shake things up as He exposes the hearts of many. He will face strong opposition, and deep suffering will be your lot as His mother.”
As they stood there, Anna, an eighty-four year old widow approached them. In recent years she had stayed at the Temple, often fasting and praying night and day, longing for God to deliver Jerusalem from her oppressors. Upon seeing the young Child, she burst out in thanksgiving and began telling others about Him, those who, like her, had been looking for a deliverer.
Joseph and Mary wondered at these unusual events as they completed the prescribed rituals and returned home.
Sometime later, maybe as much as two years, a group of scholar-astronomers from the East, known in the region as “king-makers,” arrived in Jerusalem. It caused quite a stir when they entered the city, announcing that they’d come to pay homage to the newborn “king-of-the-Jews.” Herod, the king, gathered the religious leaders and scribes and asked if the archives had any information about this. Sure enough, they found an obscure passage in the book of Micah predicting that Bethlehem, a small village of Judea, would someday be the birthplace of a Ruler who would shepherd the nation.
So Herod gave the visitors directions. In a private consultation he asked them when they had first seen the star. Feigning a desire to worship this new king, he urged them to report back once they’d found Him. As they were leaving the city, the star they’d seen previously appeared again and led them right to the door of the home where Jesus was living with His parents. They were so thrilled! Seeing the child, they bowed low and worshiped Him. Then they presented Him with rich gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
However, when they left Bethlehem, they did not return through Jerusalem because they had been warned in a dream NOT to go back to Herod. So they took an alternate route to their own country.
At about the same time, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, instructing him to take the family to Egypt because Herod was out to destroy their Child. Though this hadn’t been in their plans, God had foretold it centuries before through the prophet who said, “I have called My Son out of Egypt.”
It was a good thing that they left Bethlehem immediately. The angel was right. Herod was so furious about being slighted by the mysterious “king-makers” that he ordered every male child in the region to be killed. Based on the timing of events described by the visitors, the order was directed at all boys who had been born in the previous two years. Jeremiah the prophet had written about this tragic event some 600 years earlier: “A voice was heard in Ramah: crying, weeping, and loud groaning; Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are taken from her.”
In time, Herod died; and an angel of the Lord again appeared in a dream to Joseph, telling him that it was safe to return home to Israel. Along the way Joseph learned that Herod’s son Archelaus had been named king. In another dream an angel directed Joseph not to return to Bethlehem but to his home in Galilee. They ended up settling in Nazareth, and the ancient prophecy that declared “He will be called a Nazarene” was fulfilled.