In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:1-7)
This is a well-known biblical passage in the Church for so many centuries. The simplicity of the writing does not leave us without concern about the quality of the information given to us. Luke gives a useful indication of the historical acuity of this grand and common event. Grand in the sense that the Son of God was born in the world; grand as well, because that event, committed for so many centuries, causes us a magnificent moment of enjoyment. It is also common inasmuch as it relates the birth of a baby in the world that is a leading entry in the humanity.
It is grand and common altogether for God chose to come this way to walk among us all. His divinity did not forbid Him to become human. He rend the heavens and came down. (Isaiah 64:1)
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A small account of history. Caius Octavius was born in Rome in 63 before Christ. His uncle, the Conqueror Julius Caesar, had him in high respect. He appoints him as his successor. When the General Julius Caesar died in 44 BC, Octavius is said to be his son and heir; he then take the name of Caius Julius Caesar. His reign will last forty one years. He died in 14 AD at the age of 75. He was the first Roman Emperor. He was a great administrator. He established a service of police and fireman in Rome. He also did great reforms in the whole empire, creating new services, namely a postal service that helped establishing the communication within the boundaries. In 27 BC, the Roman Senate granted him the Honorary title of Augustus. That name signifies en latin majestic, sublime.
As for Quirinius, he was a Roman General and Administrator. He was raised to the rank of Consul by the Emperor Augustus in the year 12 BC in return of all the services he rendered to the Roman Empire. The Census, in the text of Luke, was done in the time of Quirinius as Governor of Syria and therefore Judea. Luke’s concern to give historical facts tells us his desire to place the birth of Jesus in time.
Furthermore, the simplicity and fluidity of the text brings us to consider the Love of God for the Humanity.
- The action takes place during a period of general census done in the whole Roman Empire. We mostly translate the Greek as a census done over the whole earth. However, it has to be understood as over the whole Roman Empire. For the Roman, whatever was outside the Empire was considered uncivilized, barbarious until conquered.
- The mention of the two great Roman leaders allows us to place in time the census, and thus the birth of Jesus. We know that the Roman were doing a census every 14 years.
- Among the Jewish nation, the census was recorded by family order within the tribes. Everyone had to go to the city of his forefathers. Joseph’s family registers were kept in Bethlehem. (See 1 Samuel 20:6 where Bethlehem is said to be the City of David)
- Joseph, Mary’s husband, does not break the regulation. He goes to Bethlehem where his family is registred. Although Mary is his wife (Matthew 1:20,24) she is called his fiancée in the text. This can be explained by the fact that he will sexually know Mary, only after the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:25)
- Mary’s pregnancy comes to an end and she gives birth to her first born child in Bethehem. The text does not talk of her only child but the first born. In fact, Jesus had brothers and sisters. (Matthew 13:55,56 ; Mark 3:31)
- There were no vacant room to accomodate the couple. Is it because there were too many people by reason of the census going on? We do not know. Nevertheless, there were no comfortable room available. There only was an animal shed where Mary was able to lay her Son in a manger.
Therefore, instead of giving birth in a palace, the Son of God arrived in a poor establishment among the poorest.
God’s love. The Church celebrates the Birth of Jesus since centuries that is God among us, which is the name of Jesus given in the Old Testament. (See Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23) God is not that estranged from the Humanity as we want to believe it. His closeness is such that He chose to come to the world through a natural process, namely conception and birth as we know it. It was an extraordinary conception for it was through the Holy Spirit that Mary gave birth to Jesus. This gave Jesus to be true God through that special conception and true Man through the flesh of Mary. Furthermore, Jesus becomes a descendant of King David through His adoptive father Joseph. God does not leave His people in despair. More than empty promises, He comes to the world to reunites it to Him. The birth of Jesus points toward the resurrection to come so that death, which is the separation from God, shall be abolished.
The delicacy of this passage brings us to consider all the sweetness of the conveyed message. God chose to intervene in the anonymity of a birth in a lost shed. A baby is laid in a manger, wrapped in strip clothes. The different Gospels of the New Testament will teach us to grow with this Good News of a God who came among us for our own reconciliation with Him.
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law. (Galatians 4:4)