Luke 2:1-7 (NIV) 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 his 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 room for them in the inn.
God continued to move the people into appropriate places through actions and events in order to make everything turn out just as He intended. He could have simply commanded Joseph to take Mary to Bethlehem for the birth of the baby, but He chose instead to put it into the mind of Caesar Augustus to hold a tax census, in order to demonstrate His ability to move the movers, even the great Caesar himself.
When the decree was issued, it caused quite a stir, as every male had to go to his ancestral inheritance to be registered. That meant the wholesale, albeit temporary, relocation of pretty much everyone in the north part of the country to the south, plus a more limited shuffling of the people who already lived in the south. The reason for this was that the vast majority of those whose ancestral holdings were in the north had been taken into captivity into Assyria more than 700 years before, and had never come back. During the tumultuous years after the southern tribes had come back from Babylon, some had chosen to vacate their more populated family properties in the south to settle in the largely vacated country around the Sea of Galilee, leaving alone a swath in the middle of the country inhabited by the pagan Samaritans.
Even though Joseph was a common man, a carpenter by trade, the blood of kings pulsed through his veins. In fact, he was a direct descendant of King David, so his ancestral inheritance lay to the south, in David’s hometown of Bethlehem. Of course, that was where God had predicted that the Messiah would be born (Micah 5:2). Even though Mary was getting close to her delivery date, Joseph took her along. Most of the people for their town of Nazareth were heading south, too. Plus, on trips like this opportunities for craftsmen like Joseph arose, making it advantageous to extend one’s stay, and it didn’t make sense to leave his wife behind if that were to happen.
As was noted, most of Nazareth was heading south at the same time, so Mary and Joseph didn’t have to make the trip alone, making the journey safe. And, despite popular imagery, Mary did not go into labor while they were still on the road. Luke carefully recorded Mary’s recollection that the time for the baby to be born came “while they were there.” The houses were crowded with all of the relocation, so in the house where Mary and Joseph were staying the guest rooms (the best translation of the Greek word often translated “inn,” and used also by Luke in 22:11) were full. So Mary gave birth in the regular living quarters of the house. The baby was snugly wrapped in swaddling cloths, and a manger was pressed into service as a makeshift cradle.
So was born the Son of God, right on time, and in exactly the place to which God had pointed in the Scriptures.
Father, sometimes we think that You just patiently sit and watch while we unfold our stories here on earth. But one thing that is clearly taught all through Scripture is that You are moving history somewhere, and You are continually at work moving people, events, whole societies to make sure it all happens just the way You planned. Help me, like Mary and Joseph, to fit myself into the flow of Your plan and flow along with it, instead of trying to fight it, and thus break myself on it. Amen.