The virgin birth of Christ in Bethlehem had been prophesied hundreds of years before it actually happened. But it happened in a way that was completely unexpected.
Mary was just an ordinary girl. Joseph, just a simple carpenter. The manger in Bethlehem was surrounded by itchy hay and the sounds and smells of working animals. Not to mention the shepherds, who were the outcasts of society, were the last people who would be invited to worship a king.
Think back to that time…
It had been four long centuries since anyone had heard God’s voice. Four hundred long years of pure unbroken silence. No divine messengers. No prophets. No visions or dreams. Just four hundred long years of fighting and ignorance and uncertainty.
God had promised deliverance, but surely His people were beginning to have doubts. Surely their fears were rising, as they went to the temple week after week to the sound of the Roman’s mocking jeers, taunting that God had given up on His “chosen people.” It must have been so hard to walk past them in silence, biting tongues and clenching fists to keep from lashing out in bitterness.
But He had promised over and over again through the prophets that He would send His chosen one — and He is not a man, that He should lie. His word is true, eternal, unchanging.
But who ever heard of a virgin conceiving? It’s against the very laws of nature! It had never, ever happened before in the whole history of the world! It was simply unthinkable!
And who on earth could be worthy enough to bear that honor? Perhaps a princess or a ruler’s daughter, or some other lady of fortune and standing. A good lady, one of impeccable character and high reputation, and of course one who already resided in Bethlehem.
Certainly not Mary, a simple maiden with a simple name. She came from a good family, but they had no money or status in the community. Why would God choose her to bear the honor of carrying the Christ child? She was a nobody from the no-good town of Nazareth (and could anything good come out of Nazareth?). And anyway, she was already betrothed…
Joseph, her beloved, was a simple carpenter. He had no money, no status, no power. The rulers at the synagogue probably turned up their noses when he walked by, bearing the simplest sacrifices of a poor man. He was a good man, and was a direct descendant of David… but he had no means to provide every comfort or opportunity for the child. He was no scholar, who knew all the prophesies and could explain to everyone else what’s going on. Nor was he a wise ruler, who could pave the way for the promised One to deliver people from human tyranny.
Mary and Joseph were just ordinary people, minding their own business, and holding onto hope for the future. Never mind the fact that neither of them lived in Bethlehem… nor did they have money to travel there on a whim.
Speaking of Bethlehem, wouldn’t you expect that a royal house would be prepared for such a child? That the most beautiful finery would be selected and the most comfortable of spaces set aside for the prophesied birth of a King? Perhaps the rulers of the synagogue and the city would be ready with trumpet fanfares or royal decrees, some way to make known to the world what a glorious child had been born.
And of course, there would be honored guests present at the birth, or shortly thereafter. Queens and kings, noblemen and rulers, men and women of fortune and status. The halls would be crowded, and people would be gathered outside the doors and windows, hoping for a glimpse of the royal baby.
But there was no trumpet fanfare. No royal decree. There wasn’t even a crowd of eager well-wishers to lavish gifts on the newborn King.
There were only a few animals who looked silently on as Mary gave birth, and a handful of shepherds who welcomed Him into the world. They had no gifts to offer, no promises of future provision. Just their words and their love, as they bowed their hearts in worship to the little Baby.
To think that God would choose such a simple maiden and an ordinary man of trade to bear the chosen Messiah in a stinky manger stall in Bethlehem, and that He would announce such a birth to shepherds by a whole host of heavenly angels…
The birth of Christ may have been foretold… but the way it took place was fully unexpected.
It seemed like such a strange way to save the world.
But since when does God do things in the way we expect?
Image: ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’ by Jacob van Oost