Text: Luke 2:1-18
‘History teaches us’ claimed the philosopher Hegel, ‘that we never learn anything from history.’ But here, at least, is one person who is determined to learn something from the history of her own son. Let’s ponder with Mary:-
1. The time when Jesus was born
v1f. ‘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.)’
Notice how painstakingly Luke fits the nativity into its historical background.
Now, Jesus was born at a time when the nation of Israel had reached its lowest ebb. The sun seemed to be setting on a once great nation, and many must have doubted if it would ever rise again. This very enrollment reminds us that the Jews were at this time under the heel of the mighty Roman empire. They were dominated, they were repressed, and they were humiliated. Nor did their religion bring them much comfort, for it had grown cold and lifeless. The voice of prophecy, which had urged and encouraged them during many a dark day before, had been silent for 400 years. Hope had given way almost entirely to bitterness and despair.
But this was the time that God chose to give the most precious of all gifts – his own divine Son. And this was no afterthought: God had planned it that way, and he had promised it would be so. Rom 5:6 Gal 4:4.
We learn from this the simple yet vital lesson that GOD’S TIME IS ALWAYS THE BEST TIME. “Why,” Mary might have asked, “is this happening now?” And we may find ourselves asking similar questions about things in our own lives. But God alone has the right, the authority, the wisdom, to order our lives and to weave the intricate fabric of history. We can say with David, “My times are in your hand.”
2. The place where Jesus was born
v4f ‘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.’
As Joseph and Mary trudged those 60 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, it must have seemed to them that their only reason for doing so was the decree of the Roman emperor: he wanted his subjects counted; and he wanted them taxed.
But in reality, that journey had been ordained by God. He had determined that the Messiah, the Christ, should be descended from king David. And the attestation of Jesus as the promised Messiah is seen in his birth in the City of David. See Mic 5:2.
We learn from this the truth about THE OVER-RULING PROVIDENCE OF GOD. This story teaches us that the forces of this world, be they never so evil, can only ever move just as fast and as far as God allows. They tyrant can do his worst, but God will infailingly use it for his own glorious purpose. Another Joseph had learned this lesson, when he said to his cruel brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”
3. The manner in which Jesus was born
v6f. ‘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 room for them in the inn.’
Jesus was born in loneliness, squallor, and deprivation. How do you think his mother felt? Come, let us try to comfort her in her distress: “Cheer up, Mary, look on the bright side. You’ll soon be back home in Nazareth. You’re in trouble now, but soon you’ll be able to put all this behind you.” But that would have been cold comfort for Mary. Why? Because she was slowly beginning to realise that in the future lay almost overwhelming burdens and almost intolerable difficulties. It was just beginning to dawn on her that her baby son was the living fulfilment of the OT prophecies concerning the Messiah, Isa 53.
And so, pondering all this, what do you suppose it was that sustained Mary in those years – years which climaxed in the horror of the crucifixion? Surely the Lord upheld Mary, as he upholds all believers in distress, with three strong supports:-
(a) The hope of future glory. There is coming a time when God will wipe away every tear. This is not pie-in-the-sky. This is not escapism. Just such a hope sustained our Lord himself, Heb 12.
(b) The continuing presence of God. Remember this, that the name given to Jesus in his humiliation was ‘Emmanuel’ – God with us. Now, if God is for us, who is gainst us? If God is with us, what glory and what joy are ours even now!
(c) The transformation of suffering. The ugly chrysalis is a necessary stage in the production of the beautiful butterfly. So God has considered it best to carry out his plan for us largely by transforming affliction and weakness into things of lasting beauty and abundant usefulness. This was supremely true of Christ himself, of course, whose apparently tragic death was in reality God’s greatest victory. Cf. Jas 1:2.