It is the year 7 B.C., and according to Gods prophecy, a time of great expectancy of the birth of the Messiah of Israel. Gods chosen nation groaned under control of the Roman Empire and unscrupulous Herod the Great, King of Judea. In the heart of every Jewish girl lay the hope she would be the one to bear the promised Messiah who would release them from the bondage of evil rulers, and fulfill the promises to Israel.
Mary, a young woman who lived in the town of Nazareth in southern Galilee, was no exception. The people in the village were pleased that she and Joseph-bar-Jacob, also of Nazareth, planned to marry. Joseph was well liked in the community and had his own trade as a carpenter. He would make a perfect husband and father.
Annunciation to Mary
One night as Mary lay on her sleeping palette, dreaming of her wedding and life with Joseph, her world was turned upside down. Suddenly a supernatural light streamed through the window, and lit up the room. A bright shining figure appeared in the midst of it. Angel Gabriel appeared in the privacy of her humble home at Nazareth. The greatest honor bestowed on humankind was to come amidst circumstances of deepest human lowliness, to mark more clearly the exclusively divine character of what was to happen. She hopedas all young women had hopedthis day would come, but was taken by surprise and terrified by the angels presence.
Gabriel reassured her, Greetings favored one. Do not be afraid. God has been gracious to you. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be very great and be called Son of the Most High. The Lord will give him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over Israel forever; his kingdom will never end.
Mary was deeply troubled and wondered what this could mean since she wasnt yet married. I am a virgin. How can I have a baby? she asked.
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Most High will overshadow you; for that reason the Holy Child to be born will be called the Son of God, for Gods promises can never fail, replied the angel.
Mary bowed low and replied, I am the Lords servant. I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true. Her answer revealed her steadfast faith in Gabriels prophecy. Her child was to be the Son of the Lord God of Israel, and not the biological son of Joseph. Of all the women who ever lived upon the earth, she is the one whom God chose to be the mother of his Son! Then the angel left her and the room became dark again.
She awakened her mother and father and told them what had happened. They were very devout and also believed Gabriels words. The Lord knew their hearts, their love for him, and their faith in the promise of the Messiah; and he knew Mary had the strength to face the awesome and heart wrenching experiences that lay ahead for her and her son. As she lay on her bed looking out the window at the moon and stars, she asked herself, What shall I tell Joseph? Would he believe this miracle?
When she told Joseph all that the angel had said, he was deeply troubled, How can you have a child that is not mine? Ive been watching and waiting for the Holy One of Israel, but I dont believe you are that virgin. But I am a fair man and I am quietly ending our engagement so as not to disgrace you publicly.
It was not the reaction Mary expected to hear. She was heartbroken.
Annunciation to Joseph
The night after he was told the news, Joseph lay awake tortured by doubts and finally fell deeply asleep. The door of heaven opened for him too, and the angel gave him these comforting words, Do not be afraid to make Mary your wife. It is through the Holy Spirit that she has conceived. She will bear a son; and you shall give him the name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. When Joseph woke he had no more doubt and bewilderment. He only wanted to obey the God who loved and trusted him.
The next morning he ran to Mary with the good news, The angel appeared to me too! Everything you said was true. Forgive me; I now believe you are to be the mother of Gods Chosen, and I want to marry youeven more than before!
Oh Joseph, I will be your wife! shouted Mary joyfully.
They were married as the angel of the Lord had directed, but Joseph had no intimate relations with her until after her son was born. All this happened in order to fulfill what the Lord had declared through his prophet:
A virgin will conceive
and bear a son,
and he shall be called Emmanuel,
a name which means God is with us.
Journey to Bethlehem
An untimely decreeso Joseph thoughtwas issued by Emperor Augustus for a census, the first of its kind, to be made throughout the Roman world. It forced him to return to his own town of Bethlehem to register at the City of David, because he was of Davids royal line. Time was running out for registration and Mary was about to give birth. The two left at once for Bethlehem.
Even though he provided a donkey for her to ride, it was painful to watch his wifes discomfort while traveling the long journey from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea, approximately 70 miles south. After a weeks journey, they finally arrived in Bethlehem just as darkness was falling. Mary was totally exhausted and showing signs of labor pains. They must find lodging quickly.
Bethlehem inns were always filled with travelers going to and coming from Jerusalem, five miles to the northeast. During the census, the village was even more crowded and the yard of the inn had already filled with travelers and their animals. Most of them were humble folk who had made the journey to Bethlehem only because the Emperor Augustus in Rome had decreed it. There was no room anywhere in the village, and their last hope was a caravansary on the outskirts of town.
Joseph, I cant wait much longer, exclaimed Mary as she felt another twinge of pain.
Her desperate husband banged on the door of the owners residence.
Eli, the innkeeper hollered through the door, There is no more room!
Joseph would not be denied, Please, my wife is about to give birth. Any place will do.
Hannah, the innkeepers wife looked through the window and sympathized with Mary. Turning to her husband she pleaded, This young couple needs help. Our cave near the inn that we use for a stable and for birthing lambs would be better than nothing. Please allow them to stay there, then I can help this young mother with the birth of her child.
Alright, Eli agreed, you see to it and Ill check in on them later to make sure they have everything they need.
It was a poor place for a child to be born, but at least it was a shelter and a measure of protection. Joseph made a bed of straw for Mary while Hannah tended to her needs. After about an hour, she went into labor. Israels child of the promise would be born before this night of wonder had ended.