06 – Birth of Jesus
Where: Bethlehem, Judea
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It was late March of the year 5 BC of the Gregorian calendar [mid Nisan in the year 3756 of the Hebrew calendar and late March of the year 749 of the Roman calendar]. Winter was past, and the weather was cool but warming. The sheep were in the fields, and it was “birthing” time.
Caesar Augustus had ordered a taxation census for Judea and Syria in the year 8 BC [they were ordered about every 14 years and the previous one had been in 22 BC]. But this census had been delayed in Judea because of a war with King Aretas IV of Arabia.
Caesar and Herod the Great had a “falling out” at this time over the war in Arabia and Caesar demoted Herod. Herod sent people to Caesar to appeal and to “mend the rift”.
In 6 BC, Caesar had issued a decree that there should be an “oath of fidelity to Caesar” and that, at the same time, those in Canaan would also be counted for tax purposes.
By 5 BC, both the census for taxation purpose and the oath of fidelity were in full swing, though not all were willing to swear fidelity.
Quirinius had become Proconsul of Syria and Cilicia in 11 BC and this would be the first census since he had attained the office. Each male person must report to his home village sometime between October and the following September, in order to be counted.
Joseph’s ancestral home was in Bethlehem of Judea, though he had been living in Nazareth of Galilee. He was a skilled laborer and did work for the local people, but his “big” money came from his work in Sepphoris, where Herod the Great was building a city to be the capital of Galilee. Joseph had even become engaged to a local girl. Bethlehem was a nice, quiet, out-of-the-way place. Joseph chose to go south near the middle of March for a number of reasons: Passover, the census, to join Mary, who would be close to delivering the baby and who awaited him in Bethlehem, and, of course, he wanted to visit his family and friends. The plan was to arrive before Passover day, which would fall on Thursday, March 21.
Joseph left Nazareth on Sunday morning, March 17, the first day of the week and, unnoticed by him, a new star appeared in the sky. He expected to travel fast and arrive in Bethlehem on Thursday, in time for the beginning of Passover at 6 pm.
He walked the 23 miles from Nazareth to Capernaum and arranged to join a fast-moving group of travelers traveling south. On Tuesday the 19th, they arrived at Adam, 55 miles down the valley. Wednesday evening Joseph arrived in Jericho where he spent the night. On Thursday morning, he traveled up the road from Jericho to Jerusalem and then on to Bethlehem.
When Joseph arrived at his folks’ home in Bethlehem late Thursday morning, he found the home crowded because of Passover. It had been intended that Joseph and Mary move to an inn once he arrived, but there were no rooms to be had. Instead, to make room for Joseph, Mary had to move down from the upper platform inside the house, where she had been living and the two of them set up a sleeping area on the lower floor and lived among the animals, where Mary went into labor.
With the family’s help, Mary delivered a baby boy sometime Thursday night, after the Passover celebration, which had begun at the sighting of the first star, usually between 6:00 and 6:30. The women wrapped the baby in bands of cloth and then set up the baby’s crib in the animals’ manger. Then, as the excitement subsided, Mary and the baby slept. Yet a good night’s sleep was not to be their fate.
This was springtime, and there were shepherds in the fields with their sheep. The shepherds would guide the sheep to the new spring grass during the day, watch over the lambing at all times and guard the sheep at night. After they had corralled the sheep for the night, they were sitting around their small campfire. Normally they would watch the stars, but tonight it was cloudy.
One of the shepherds mentioned that last night he had seen the “new star” that had just recently appeared in the sky [this comet had appeared sometime between March 9 and April 6 near the constellation of Capricorn]. At that moment “a man” approached the shepherds. He sat down with them and told them of a birth that had just taken place in Bethlehem, which God was directing.
The shepherds were doubtful. Yet when the messenger stood up, and as they looked up to see his face, behind him the clouds separated and a hole appeared in the cloudy night sky. The shepherds saw a shower of meteorites [falling stars, the host of heaven] and in the wind they heard the sounds of angels praising God. When the clouds again covered the sky, they noticed that the angel was gone.
The shepherds decided to go into the town of Bethlehem to prove to themselves that a baby had indeed been born and was lying in a manger. They arrived in Bethlehem in the early evening, well before 9 pm, when folks would be going to sleep. They began their search for a newborn baby. They were told that a newborn might be found in the house of Joseph’s parents and the shepherds came to the door and knocked. When the shepherds saw the baby, one said, “He’s as cute as a new born lamb“.
These common folk told Joseph why they had come, and that Mary and the baby were the sign that the Messiah was born at last. Joseph then told the shepherds that an angel had visited both Mary and him and how the Lord’s Spirit was guiding this birth. The shepherds thanked the Lord for keeping his promise and praised God for allowing such common folks to be involved. Finally, there would be peace, as the angels had sung, for those who responded to God’s call by doing what God asked. This was certainly ‘good news’.
When the shepherds left and things were quiet again, Mary gave considerable thought to what had been happening as she drifted in and out of sleep.
No questions have been asked yet.