The Time Came

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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

I’ve read these verses in Luke every year for Christmas celebrations with my parents and family since I was born, or rather, for as long as I can remember. And this year, (as with so many years of my adult life) I keep reading them almost every morning and here’s why — from Thanksgiving Day until Christmas morning, I just love to slow down in my morning quiet times so that I not only read and meditate on Christ’s birth, but to listen … to listen for the Holy Spirit to “highlight” any words or phrases … any punctuation marks or prepositions … any thoughts or instructions He has for me.

Well, this morning was no different.

Three words. Just in three words, an entire truth (and for the majority of us) a very REAL reality seemed to grab my attention.

When we first read that Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world, a census that would require folks to go to their hometown to register, it may seem like a “traditional” thing to do. But it’s actually quite the opposite. It was an imperial order and very unusual at that. And it’s also near impossible to have a Roman census in the territory of King Herod, an allied king. So, understanding that this was a highly bizarre and nearly impossible order, not to mention terribly untimely for Joseph and Mary, let’s notice first these words:

“So Joseph also went…He went there to register with Mary”

Joseph could have refused to go due to his circumstances? What were his circumstances? His fiancé was pregnant and her baby was due within days of the ordered census.

Now, here’s where we need to slow down … let’s really get this first.

His FIANCE’ was pregnant. That alone let’s us in on what his circumstances were at that time. He and Mary were the talk of the town of Nazareth. He and Mary were going to have a baby and they weren’t married. They were already experiencing a lot of “village vocabulary” if you know what I mean. The gossiping, the slandering, the whispers, the rejection by those who didn’t understand…they couldn’t understand the ‘overshadowing of God’s Spirit’ that impregnated her. Some (if not most) of the villagers saw around a 14 year old girl pregnant and yet, she and Joseph repeating to them all … Mary is a virgin.

Have you ever slowed down enough to read these verses to really understand more of what the circumstances had to have been for Mary and Joseph?

Can you imagine waking up for 9 months, only to hear and see more questioning from your towns people as your tummy grows and grows, and … you aren’t married? Can you imagine the stone throwing of words, raised eyebrows, and judgment that was cast upon them by those who simply didn’t understand … by those who didn’t see what Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, saw.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” Luke 1:41-45

It wasn’t uncommon in those days for a family to begin with a mother as young as 13, 14, 15 years old. But it was highly uncommon {actually never happened but once!} for a a young woman to become pregnant by the power of the Most High, and yet claim to be a virgin.

“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:26-35

But one thing I have noticed that we do not see in Scripture is this – where were Mary and Joseph’s parents? Not just physically; were they there and close by to offer their children support and help? But where were they emotionally, spiritually? Were they as Elizabeth, filled with so much JOY just in hearing the news of the Christ child being born to their own children? Were they full of JOY that their own son and daughter were chosen to be the earthly parents to their long awaited Messiah?

My mind loves to picture that little 14 year old young lady preparing for her baby’s arrival with her mother right alongside her. Preparing the nursery, preparing the linens and all the things they would need when He was born. I can hear the giggles and laughter as mother and daughter talk about when Mary was a little girl, and how even then Mary’s mom saw such a special child in her. I can only imagine how Mary’s mother was eager to hold her Grandson, the Grand Son of God, and readied her own home for a new baby. What about Mary’s father? Was he possibly a carpenter working tirelessly into the night to build for his daughter the perfect crib to lay her baby to rest? Joseph, we know, was a carpenter. Could he have been busy building a small box for Mary to treasure their precious baby’s clothes and shoes?

We all make preparations before our babies are born. We prepare a nursery, enjoy receiving gifts from friends and family and we definitely prepare our home with everything we can think of that will help us care for our newborn child. I believe Mary was no different. She had been planning and preparing for her baby for 9 months. Despite so much of the murmuring among certain villagers, she silenced it all in her heart and keep her eyes focused on the Gift given her … the Gift given to the world. She stayed humble. Trusting. And surrendered to His Lordship with each passing day as she prepared.

But then things drastically changed for her and Joseph.

Here they were at the end of their long and awaited pregnancy and they find out a census has been ordered. A census that would require Joseph to go to his hometown of Bethlehem to register.

Can you imagine? Put yourself in his shoes. Here he is, any day now, going to be a father, and not just any father…but the earthly father to his own Lord. And now … NOW he is ordered to leave his precious fiancé and journey miles away.  

Well, he made a decision.

A good one.

He decided that since he and Mary would soon be married, that he would take her with him and they would register together. After all, they would soon be husband and wife, so he decided NOT to leave her, but to saddle her on a mule or horse, whatever he could find, and that this journey would be something they did as “US.”

He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

I admire him so much for that!

But to be honest … I admire Mary even more.

Why? Because … she went.

She could’ve stayed back with mama and daddy. She could have even justified her decision to ‘think of herself,” after all … she was very much pregnant at this time. She could have sent her soon-to-be-husband off with a packed bag and assured him that her family would take great care of her. But she didn’t. It was not God’s plan. It was not what HE had for Mary and Joseph. God’s plan was for that young woman to be by Joseph’s side as THEY registered. All I see are two exceptionally brave and faith-filled people who listened to God and did exactly what HE was leading them to do…together.  

But they traveled on with this in mind, too — they knew the chances of them even having a place to rest for the night once they got to Bethlehem would be next to none. It’s like when you go to your favorite college town to watch a game, and it’s no ordinary game…but it’s THE GAME of the year – the game between 2 great rivals. And you know what accommodations are like during that time – there is hardly a hotel room or condo available. If you didn’t reserve a room weeks, even months in advance, you just may have to drive to a neighboring town or city to find a place to stay.  If you go to a hotel right there in the heart of the city where the game is being played in hopes to get a room for the night, you just may hear, “Sorry, but there is no room for you here.” THAT is what Mary and Joseph knew was at risk as they traveled to his hometown of Bethlehem. There was a very likely chance they would not be able to find a room because the ordered census was drawing thousands into one city. 

Just a thought….but can you hear the future in-laws? “Oh, no Joseph! Don’t take Mary. The baby will be born any day now and she needs us to be with her. We are family. We need to help her. You can’t expect her to leave and take such a journey with you at this critical time. And what if you get all the way there and can’t find a place to stay? Where would Mary rest for the night? You can’t take that risk. Just run along now. Go register in your hometown and we’ll take good care of her.”  

Here’s another thought… since Mary was found with such favor by God, that may mean she was raised and trained up by God-fearing, God-worshiping parents. So, maybe it went more like this: “Oh, Joseph, I know the timing of this census couldn’t have come at a more challenging time, but we pray for you and Mary every day. We have for so long, and we trust that God has allowed this, planned this, for a reason. You and Mary will be married soon and it would be best if she were with you. The journey will be hard, but you are doing the right thing in taking her with you. Mary, trust God as you so faithfully have and keep looking to Him for your strength. He will help you. He will be with you both. He will provide for you, and we will be right here praying for you both.”

The most meaningful part of all this is what we see in the three words that stood out to me this morning  –

“the time came”

The time came for Mary to give birth to her baby boy. The time came when leaving home didn’t matter. The time came when not being with her parents and future in-laws wasn’t even in her mind. The time came when the nursery or all the ‘things’ readied for her baby back in Nazareth didn’t concern her. The time came when even the census that ordered them to travel instantly became a blessing. The time came when Mary and Joseph would not only hold their baby, but their Savior. The time came when the dark cave, where they were worshiping and treasuring the birth of their Son, became the most sacred soil under their feet. The time came when the feeding trough where they placed His head became the cradle for their King.

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.”

This Christmas, those 3 words, “the time came” represent to me a time when nothing else matters but one thing – Jesus and celebrating His birth. Nothing else really matters. You see … 

Grief can be wrapped up in swaddling prayers of trust. 

Grudges can be laid to rest in the cradle of His grace.

Forgiveness can be treasured in a heart of love and mercy.

Kindness can be the home of every heart.

Has there been people, circumstances and maybe choices that you’ve faced this holiday that you didn’t see coming? Mary and Joseph didn’t know the census would be ordered in her 9 month of pregnancy. They were busy planning for their Son’s birth, and didn’t see this imperial order on its way. Yet, God did. And it was Him all along positioning them in the very place HE had chosen, surrounded by the very people HE had planned as HE BROUGHT HIS SON INTO THE WORLD.

This Christmas, let’s look at our own un-ideal circumstances and choose to trust God. He alone knows when to write on the page of our own life these powerful and promising words,

“the time came.”

Merry CHRISTmas!


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lisa rippy

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