Mary was nearing the end of her pregnancy. And probably getting everything ready for the new Babe. With the slow-moving hustle and waddling bustle that women towards the end of their final trimester usually do. She might have been in the middle of folding a newly washed infant-sized shirt when there was a knock on the door. And Joseph could have been home to answer it, opening the door to a Roman soldier who would hand over an officially sealed letter. A brand new decree from the Roman emperor – the man who had established the Roman empire in the first place. The Empire of the World, they called it. The empire was the biggest it ever had been (and the biggest it ever would be). And Caesar Augustus wanted exact numbers.
Joseph read the letter quickly, running his fingers through his hair absently as he did while he thought. And glanced over at Mary, mid-fold with that tiny little shirt in hand and her very swollen belly. Pregnant with the holy Babe that wasn’t his.
“We don’t have a choice,” Joseph likely explained that night as Mary firmly shook her head. There’s no way, she thought. Bethlehem? Now?! It was a fast and furious law that was implemented immediately. Every single man was to return to the place they were born for a census. No explanation was given. No excuses allowed. Failure to show up meant imprisonment. Death, even.
For Joseph, that meant a journey to Bethlehem was in their immediate future. It was where he was born. And it was also where David was born. It was almost as if God was making it as easy as possible for the world to connect the dots between the Messiah that was well-on-His-way and the king whom God had hand-picked to reign so many centuries earlier. A king whose lineage God would use to usher in the highest-top-of-the-tree-Immanuel. David, the Bethlehemite: he would always come to mind with Jesus, the Nazarite born in Bethlehem.
David had no reason to be king – other than the fact that God had hand-picked him. And when He did, He used language very similar to the words Abraham used that day on the mountain with his miraculously-born-20-year-old-son.
It was back when David was a young man that the people of Israel approached a priest named Samuel and demanded a king. They recognized that he was getting older and wouldn’t be around much longer. And they wanted him to appoint someone to take his place. But not to lead them spiritually. They wanted to have their cake and eat it too. They wanted a lord – and rejected the LORD.
So, after a lot of back and forth, Samuel heeded God’s instruction to give them what they wanted. And Saul was chosen to be king. A man that quickly turned his back on God. And led the people away with him. And chaos ensued until, eventually, God took the kingdom away from him. And the people hated their once-demanded-king.
Through it all, Samuel lived on. Much older. And with much whiter hair. And again, God used him to find a king. “Fill your horn with oil,” He told Samuel, “and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite and to his sons,
for I have provided Myself a king
So he went to Bethlehem and talked to Jesse. And spoke with his sons. Son after son After son. After son. Seven of them were presented. None of them were it. Finally, they got to young David. The least among the boys. And the youngest. He wasn’t even there – he was out tending the sheep – but he was brought in anyway. And Samuel would use the oil to anoint the young, unexpected, and dirt-covered king immediately upon the sight of him. The shepherd-who-would-be-king.
God had provided Himself a sacrifice with the ram caught in the thorns. And He provided Himself a king with the young man out in the sheep field. And He was about to provide both with the holy Messiah-Babe that was nearly finished growing in Mary’s ever-growing belly.
The decree had been issued. They had no choice. So Mary and Joseph packed their things and began their journey – the start of a long week of walking for a woman that could give birth any day. All so that they could physically record what had long-since been prophesied. And register together. Joseph. Of the house of David. Betrothed to Mary who was with child.
And that Child was about to be born in the same city that David was. Just as those prophets said.