"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn." — Luke 2:1-7
The story of Jesus in flesh, as recorded in Luke 2, begins with one Caius Caesar Octavianus Augustus, who was proclaimed emperor of Rome in the 29th year before our Lord and died A.D. 14. He was the nephew of Julius Caesar, and he thought very highly of himself. In fact he is the one that gave himself the last name Augustus. That word means honorable. Caesar Augustus was a man who thought very highly of Caesar Augustus.
Mary and Joseph lived in little town called Nazareth. Nazareth was way up north in the land of Israel, some 20 miles to the west of the Sea of Galilee, and there is no indication that they intended to pick up stakes and move. But Caesar Augustus at one point during his reign decided to tax the world. This would require everyone being enrolled in a census so the government would know how many people there were and who the people were and where they were.
The normal Roman methodology of doing all of this was to have everyone register according to where they lived. This was a simple, easy, logical way of doing things; it was very efficient. The Jewish methodology for doing this type of thing, though, was to have everyone register in and according to where their family was originally from. This, while a show of great respect and honor to their forefathers, was also a very complicated way of doing things. It required a great many people moving from one area to another all at the same time.
Nonetheless, to keep peace in the realm, Caesar Augustus had people pick up stakes and go back to their hometowns for all of this. He had no idea whatsoever that he was acting as the hand of God in a rather important matter.
Micah 5:2 made it plain that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. Every child of Israel knew this. And yet, right up until just before she was to give birth, Mary and Joseph were still in Nazareth. This taxing, though, resulted in them hastily loading up and heading for Bethlehem while Mary was "great with child."
When they got there, they found Bethlehem packed with people. Multitudes had arrived far earlier than they did. As a result, there was no room for them in the inn. And that resulted in the very Son of God being born among the animals and laid in a manger, a common feeding trough.
When we think of this, our minds are automatically drawn to the obvious message of the manger; God humbled himself to be born in as low an estate as imaginable, just so he could live and die as the sacrifice for our sin. And while every bit of that is true, there is also a missing message of the manger: The manger itself could have been avoided.
The Old Testament clearly prophesied that Jesus would come from Judah (Genesis 49:10) and that he would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14) and that he would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) and that a star would herald his birth (Numbers 24:17). But what the Old Testament does not anywhere mention is the need for the manger. Yes, the manger is a beautiful picture of the humility of Christ and that he would be the very Lamb of God. But the Bible very specifically tells us that the reason he was laid in the manger is because there was no room for them in the inn. Joseph and Mary had procrastinated. They seem to have regarded the need for Christ to be born in Bethlehem as not nearly as important as the "big things" like the virgin birth.
But do you see the flaw in that reasoning? It gives us the right to determine what things that God has said are "important enough to warrant our attention and obedience." Joseph and Mary paid a price for that thinking. They could have given birth indoors and laid the babe in a more suitable place. But instead they had only the manger.
Thank God for his humility as represented by the manger. But what say all of us determine that everything God ever says deserves our full attention and immediate obedience? It is an excellent way to avoid any unnecessary troubles in a world that is filled with many troubles that we cannot avoid.
Bo Wagner is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, North Carolina, a widely traveled evangelist and the author of several books available on Amazon and at www.wordofhis mouth.com. Email him at email@example.com.