Joseph and Mary got married in the town of Nazareth, in the land of Galilee, where she lived. But shortly after, the Emperor Augustus gave an order to all the people in Judea. He wanted an organized list of all their names, so he could charge them taxes for living in the land that Rome had taken over. Everyone would be listed by family, which meant they would all register in their hometowns. Joseph’s family was from Bethlehem, the little town that had been his ancestor King David’s hometown. So Mary and Joseph had to travel there together, a journey of five days. It was almost time for baby Jesus to be born, and Mary was in no condition to travel, but no one could say no to the Romans.
When they reached Bethlehem, they found an inn, but the guest rooms were already taken. Tired, hungry and realizing the baby was on His way, they agreed to stay in the barn.
Normally a future king would be born in a beautiful palace, but this new King was born in a humble stable. Instead of a soft, purple robe with an embroidered pattern, He was wrapped in the strips of cloth that would go around any poor baby. Most future kings would lay down to rest in beautiful cribs, but the only thing Mary and Joseph could find for Jesus was some hay.
Normally when a future king was born, he would be welcomed by a host of important people, nobles and royalty and all the richest families of the land. But God the Father wanted to show who He thought were actually the most important people.
Outside Bethlehem, in the open fields, surrounded by their smelly sheep, sleeping on the cold, hard ground, dressed in coarse, scratchy, hand-me-down clothes, were a group of poor shepherds.
Suddenly the night flashed bright like lightning, but the skies were clear, and the shining rays came from an angel of God. Terrified, the shepherds shielded their eyes as they tried to see who was there.
“Don’t be afraid,” the angel told them. “I’m here to bring you good news. News that everyone will be excited to hear. The Messiah has come! The Savior you have been waiting for. He was just born in Bethlehem, the same town that King David came from. He is Christ the Lord. You will be able to recognize Him because He is lying on a bed of hay, swaddled up with strips of cloth.”
As soon as the angel had finished speaking, the whole sky was filled with the bright glow of a whole choir of angels.
They all sang out, “Praise to God in heaven! Peace on earth to everyone whose heart belongs to Him.”
As the angels slowly went back to heaven, disappearing into the night, the shepherds’ eyes still clung to the sky.
“Well, what are we doing here?” one asked. “Let’s go into Bethlehem like they said. Let’s go find what God wants us to see.”
In the small town of Bethlehem, it was not long before they found a stable with a newborn baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying on a bed of hay, and watched over by the awestruck faces of the new parents.
The shepherds told Mary and Joseph everything the angels had said. Mary ran through their words over and over again, as her heart burned with excitement and wonder. After the shepherds left, they shouted and sang out praises to God, the whole way back to their sheep in the fields.
Jesus’ birth was humble from start to finish. Nothing about it was what you would expect for a new king, and yet He was still announced by the most splendid messengers.