Mary was engaged to be married to a man called Joseph, who
was from the descent of the famous king David we can read about
in the Old Testament. As we read the account in the Gospel of
Matthew chapter one, it also says that Joseph was Mary's
"husband" and Mary was his "wife" but also that Mary was engaged
to Joseph, which means to us in the western world that she was
not yet Joseph's wife, only engaged or promised to him as to be
his wife one day. This all seems contradictory and hard to
understand. The truth of the matter all comes clear when we
understand the laws and customs of marriage in the Jewish society
of Joseph's and Mary's day.
The marriage customs of those days in Jewish life were very
different from our customs today. When a couple were engaged or
promised in marriage to each other, unlike our custom, they were
not only looked upon as married (but not yet performing a wedding
day ceremony and living together in the same house and sleeping
together in the same bed), but if the man should die before they
came together on the wedding day and started to live together
after that day, then the woman was looked upon and even called a
The engagement of two people back in those days among the
Jews was a lawful marriage. If the man for some reason wanted to
break the engagement and not have a wedding day and not want to
live with the woman, he was obliged to have to give her an
official divorce, written on paper.
So, under Jewish law in those times, an engaged couple were
also officially and legally looked upon as "husband" and "wife"
to each other. It was often many months later that the actual
wedding day occurred, which was often not just a day but a week
(seven days in length) of celebrations.
Although they were legally husband and wife during the
engagement period, the man and woman did not come together to
sleep in the same bed and live in the same house, until the
This may all seem very odd to us today, but that was the way
couples were married back then in the Jewish society of those
With that background we can now understand the words of
Matthew when he
" ....Mary had been betrothed (or engaged) to Joseph, before
they came together she was found to be with child (pregnant,
carrying a baby inside her) of the Holy Spirit (Joseph had no
idea it was a miracle from God, but thought Mary had slept with
another man, and was pregnant from him). And her husband Joseph,
(being kind and merciful) a righteous man, was unwilling to put
her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly (Mat.1:18-19).
It was also within the laws of the Jews that if a woman was
unfaithful to her husband, she could be publicly announced as
breaking the 7th of the great Ten Commandments of the Lord, as
found in Exodus 20. Under the Old Covenant such a woman could be
put to death by stoning. All of that would certainly have "put
her to shame."
It was also a point of the old laws of Moses under the Old
Testament, to be merciful at times. Many forgot that part of the
writings of the Old Testament, but Joseph being a righteous and
just man, a man who knew all the teachings of the Old Testament,
had not forgotten those laws and precepts of showing kindness and
mercy, and was determined to act with mercy towards Mary. He
would divorce her with no public declaration and humiliating
commotion or hullabaloo, but in a quiet and private way.
As Joseph was thinking Mary was pregnant from another man,
and considering he would then divorce her, an angel from the Lord
appeared to him in a dream and said:
" Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife
and have your wedding day and live with her, for that which is
conceived in her womb is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son,
and you shall name Him Jesus (meaning, to save) for He will save
many of His people from their sins. All this is in fulfillment of
what God has spoken through the prophets of old: ' Behold, a
virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and His name shall be
called Immanuel (which means, God with us) " (Matthew 1: 20-23).
This prophecy is found in the book of Isaiah, chapter seven
and verse fourteen.
Joseph woke from his dream and knew that the Lord God had
spoken the truth to him about the situation with Mary and her
being with child, not from another human man but from God
Himself. So with faith and confidence he did as the angel
commanded and went ahead with the planned wedding day and living
with Mary his wife. But until after the baby Jesus was born he
did not sleep with Mary nor have sexual relations with her
JESUS IS BORN AT BETHLEHEM
In those days when Mary was carrying the baby Jesus, the
Jews were under the domain and governing authority of the mighty
Roman Empire and the great Caesar Augustus. He was the Emperor
or what today might be called the President (if living in such a
country as the United Stated of America). His first name was
Octavianus. He was nephew of the very famous Julius Caesar of
Roman Empire history. He obtained the rulership of the Empire
after Julius' death. He took the name Augustus (meaning honorable
or mighty) as a compliment to his own greatness in his eyes. And
it is from him that we get our month in the Roman calendar called
August, which before him was called Sextilis. He thought he was
so great that a month in the Roman calendar should be named after
During the months Mary was pregnant, Caesar Augustus sent
forth a commandment that all the Jews in Palestine should be
enrolled. In some old translations of the English language of the
New Testament, it is given as a commandment to be "taxed." To us
today we think of "tax" as money given by the people of a nation
to the government of that nation, so that government can use it
to do certain things with, such as running the public school
systems or paying the wages for the police or firemen. But
in the original language of Greek that the New Testament was
written in, that is not the meaning.
It means rather, to "enroll" or to take a list of the
citizens with their employment, the amount of their property,
etc., equivalent or the same as to what we mean today by
taking a "census" which most nations do from time to time. As
most adults know, in a "census taking" the nation will often ask
many questions, some get so personal that many people are
offended by it all, and think the government is getting too nosey
in people's lives and business affairs.
Well, whatever else this enrollment was all about, Caesar
Augustus demanded the male heads of households go to their
original home city of their family tree line. Joseph then had to
travel to Bethlehem, near Jerusalem, because he was from the
family line of king David, who was from Bethlehem (1 Samuel 16).
In talking about this enrollment, Luke, the author of the
Gospel that bears his name, uses a phrase that we need to always
keep and understand within its context. He says, "Caesar Augustus
decreed that 'the whole world' should be enrolled."
The clear fact is, as proven from historical sources, that
of course people living in China, North or South America, people
on the African continent, or in India, as well as many other
parts of the whole earth at the time, did not come to Palestine,
to be "enrolled."
This was a decree and commandment for the Jews of Palestine
only. Such a phrase as used by Luke, in a specific context use,
really means "all the people of the land." The land being that
of Palestine, or the Jews within the lands of the Roman empire.
So all the male heads of household went to the town of their
family descent to be counted and enrolled (Luke 2: 1-4).
As we continue to read in the account by Luke, we see that
Joseph took Mary with him from Nazareth in the area of Galilee,
to Bethlehem near Jerusalem, not a short distance. Mary was in
her ninth month of pregnancy, very close to giving birth to the
child Jesus. There were no quick ways to travel in those days. No
airplanes, no buses, or trains, or cars. Travel in those times on
land, for people such as Joseph and Mary was either by foot or on
donkey. Mary did not need to go with Joseph to be enrolled under
Augustus' command. So why then did Joseph take Mary all that way
The answer probably lies, as many have seen, in two main
areas. The time of the year together with Jewish religious
festival practices, and of course the will and prophecies that
the Lord God had given in the Old Testament prophets about where
the child Jesus would be born, in the town of Bethlehem (see
Micah 5: 2).
Going back to the first reason mentioned (Jewish religious
festival practices), many Bible scholars and those who study
Bible chronology (putting events into time frames of the year or
years all events were within) have seen that Jesus was not born
on December the twenty-fifth or even in the month of December.
They have come to see that Jesus was born around the great Jewish
feast of Tabernacles. They have come to see that it was certainly
during the fall Festival days of the seventh month on the Jewish
calendar (from about the time of the Feast of Trumpets to the end
of the Feast of Tabernacles, see Leviticus 23) that Jesus was
most likely born in Bethlehem. This would correspond to our
September/October months on our Roman calendar we use in most of
the western Christian world.
This being the case, as most Bible scholars now admit, then
it becomes clearer as to why Mary also went with Joseph to
Bethlehem near Jerusalem for this enrollment. Bethlehem was less
than a days walking distance from Jerusalem. Joseph and Mary
would also observe the great fall Festivals on the Jewish
calendar at the same time as Joseph would enroll in Bethlehem as
decreed by Caesar Augustus.
It was a long tiring journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem
for both Joseph and Mary, but especially for Mary, yet they knew
this was God's child Mary was carrying, and they had faith the
Lord would protect and give them strength in this undertaking.
Joseph was wanting to give Mary a nice restful room and bed in
the local Inn or Hotel as we would call it today, with a soothing
hot bath and some good food prepared and cooked by the Hotel
staff. But, as it was the fall festival time, Jerusalem and the
surrounding towns were overflowing with people from all parts of
Palestine and even various far away places of the Roman empire
where many Jews had settled, and who travelled to Jerusalem to
observe the Feats of the Lord.
There was no room for them in any of the Inns in Bethlehem.
Desperate for any reasonable warm and dry place for Mary to rest,
Joseph asked if there was anyone who could offer any place for
them to stay.
"I'm sorry I have no room for you in my home, " said one
man, " My house is just jam packed with relatives, but....well
I'm kind of embarrassed to say it....I do have a stable. I know a
stable is a pretty poor substitute for a room in an Inn or home,
especially when your wife is close to giving birth, yet, it is
warm and dry. You are welcome to bed down there, if you cannot
find a room in a house somewhere."
"Thank you kindly," replied Joseph, "yes, we will take your
offer as it seems there is no room anywhere in any Inn or home in
Bethlehem. And my wife needs to lie down and rest even if it is
on a bed of straw. The warmth and dryness with be appreciated."
So with smiles and thankful hearts Joseph and Mary made
their way to the strangers stable of hospitality.
And while they were there the time came for Mary to give
birth to the baby Jesus. This would be Mary's firstborn son as
Luke recorded, for she and Joseph did have more children later on
as they lived a normal life as husband and wife.
Among the lowly stable animals, no relatives or friends of
Joseph and Mary being there with them, the Son of God came into
this world as a human being. It was no fancy home, or large
richly decorated and furnished palace that Jesus was born in and
breathed His first breath of air. It was in an animal stable
where He was born, maybe dry and warm but an animal stable never
The Son of God, the King of kings, the one to rule and
govern this whole earth one day, was born in a straw laden stable
among a bunch of animals. Now that is a lesson in humbleness if
there ever was one. And that is taking greatness and still being
down to earth with it. Greatness does not have to be surrounded
with pomp and material splendor. Greatness is what you are with
God and how you serve Him and your fellow mankind. And as we
shall see the baby Jesus grew up to be the greatest of any human
in both of those areas of life, setting us the perfect example.
There was no splendid hospital bed or crib for God's Son.
Mary took Him and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, a blanket or
whatever cloths she and Joseph had brought with them from
Nazareth. And laid Him in a manger, the part of the stable where
the hay and other foods for horses and donkeys are put for them
to eat from.
But the God of heaven was not about to let the birth of His
Son go completely without notice and praise from at least a few.
Oh, it was not going to be announced on worldwide TV or make
headlines in every newspaper in all nations of the world. He was
not going to send millions of angels flying around the earth to
announce the birth of His Son to all peoples on earth, which He
could have done.
Yet He would send an angel to let a few people know about
this miracle birth.
AN ANGEL SENT TO NEARBY SHEPHERDS
Yes, sent to shepherds, not to some wealthy, famous, or
powerful people at all, but to common everyday shepherds watching
over their flocks out in the field, as the Gospel of Luke
They were still at this time of the year out in the fields,
the flocks and the shepherds. This also proves the time of year
was not December, for it is too cold in Palestine in December to
still have the flocks of sheep out in the fields. The shepherds
bring their flocks in from the fields before the month of
"Look, what on earth is that up there in the sky?" shouted
one shepherd with excitement in his voice.
"I see something also," exclaimed another shepherd, "but I
must be going crazy. I have to be seeing things."
"Oh, it is something very terrible I think, " added yet a
"We are all going to die," a fourth shepherd chimed in with
trembling in his voice.
A magnificent and exceedingly bright light shone all around
them. It was as if it was the sun shining in full strength on a
cloudless day. Great fear came sweeping into their hearts as they
all felt sure they had not long to live.
" Fear not, " said the angel, " for, behold I bring you good
news of wonderful joy, which shall be good for all people. For
unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is
Christ (meaning in the Greek language "anointed") the Lord. And
this shall be a sign for you; You shall find the babe wrapped in
everyday blankets, lying in a stable manger."
Suddenly, out of no where it seemed, the shepherds could see
that there appeared with the angel a multitude of heavenly hosts,
praising God, and saying, " Glory to God in the highest, and on
earth peace among men with whom He is well pleased."
God the Father took note of the day of His Son's birth. To
Him it was a very blessed day, for the potential that could arise
from the life of Jesus was like nothing that the whole universe
had ever experienced before. The potential of this one life, this
Immanuel life, this God with us in the flesh life, would mean
that many millions of others could one day reach the potential
that they were created for, to become very sons and daughters in
the family of God.
After the angels were gone from them back into heaven, the
shepherds busily talked among themselves and they all decided
they wanted to walk over to Bethlehem and to see for themselves
that which the Lord had made known to them. They went as quickly
as they could. We are not told how many stables, if more than
one, that there was in Bethlehem, or how long it took them to
find the correct stable, but we are told they did find it, where
Joseph and Mary were, and indeed found the babe Jesus lying in a
After seeing the factual truth of what the angels had said
to them, the shepherds immediately began telling others in
Bethlehem what the angels had told them about this new born
child, and many who heard all this kept the words in their heart
and mind, and wondered what it could all mean. Mary also was one
you never let anything slip out of her mind, but would ponder on
them often over the following years to come.
The shepherds returned finally to their jobs of watching
over sheep, but they returned glorifying and praising God for all
that they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them
(Luke 2: 8-20).
Written November 2000