What a shock it must have been for Joseph to learn that Mary, his betrothed wife, was pregnant. Scripture is silent as to how he discovered this news, but it probably came through Mary's parents rather than Mary herself as evidently she had not told him about the visit from the angel Gabriel.
The gospel writer Luke, who describes events from Mary's perspective, records that after Gabriel's visit to Mary she 'arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth' (Luke 1:39-40). Mary's haste to see Elizabeth would seem to have been because of the news about Elizabeth's pregnancy told to her by Gabriel and also to share her own amazing news with Elizabeth. It is also probable that Elizabeth and Mary were kindred spirits and friends as well as relatives even though Elizabeth would have been much older than Mary. Certainly they were both women of faith looking for redemption in Israel and the coming Messiah. Mary remained for about three months with Elizabeth and then returned home (Luke 1:57) at which time her pregnancy likely became known to Joseph.
Matthew, who writes the story from Joseph's perspective, records Joseph's response to Mary's condition - he must divorce her, but he would do it quietly so as not to expose Mary publicly. This must have been a perplexing time for this God-fearing man who portrayed, by his intended action toward Mary, both his sense of justice and something of his feelings for her. While trying to make sense of it all God communicated to him through an angel in a dream explaining what was happening: "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).
Joseph had a significant role to play in the fulfillment of God's purpose concerning the lineage and birth of the Christ. He was but a lowly carpenter dwelling in Nazareth but what he represented was of historical and prophetical importance. Joseph was actually of royal blood and a direct descendant of Israel's greatest king - David! But by the time of Joseph the descendants of David were of no consequence in the nation of Israel. The royal tree of David had been reduced to a stump and Joseph represented that 'stump' as he lived in humble obscurity at Nazareth labouring with his hands to make an honest living as a carpenter.
There was however a king in the land. Reigning as the puppet of Rome at that time was the pretentious and wicked king - Herod the Great. Also, the priestly leaders of Israel were corrupt and steeped in ritualistic traditionalism; they knew the scriptures yet were ignorant of truth and God. Neither Herod or the leaders of Israel knew the identity of Joseph but God did, and through him Jesus received the legal status as the rightful heir to David's throne upon which He will ultimately sit, not only as the king of Israel, but as king of kings and lord of lords. By Joseph naming Jesus as instructed by the angel he granted Jesus the status of a firstborn son in his house and under Jewish law conferred upon Him the firstborn's right of heredity privilege.
The genealogy of Matthew is traced forwards from Abraham through David to Joseph while the genealogy of Luke is traced backwards from Joseph through David to Adam. Joseph's name, in all probability, stands in place of Mary's in Luke 3:23 as no female names appear in Luke's genealogy. Both these genealogies demonstrate that Jesus was the descendant of David with Matthew specifically establishing His legal right as the heir to David’s throne.
A Virgin from Despised Nazareth
Gabriel appeared to Mary in her hometown of Nazareth to announce the news of her special privilege as the one to bear the Messiah. The north Galilean town of Nazareth with its poor reputation (John 1:46) became the interface between the divine and the human and between time and eternity. The eternal Son of God was about to enter this world in the most remarkable manner fulfilling the promise given in the Garden of Eden many centuries beforehand - He was about to become the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15). The angel Gabriel greeted Mary: "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28). It wasn't everyday someone met an angel, particularly the mighty Gabriel who stood in the presence of God. It was Gabriel who had communicated to Daniel, some 500 years earlier one of God's most important prophecies concerning the Messiah (Daniel 9:24-27) and now to Mary, a young virgin, he again speaks God's words about the Messiah’s birth.
Naturally, Mary felt afraid and though her faith was strong, these words must have come as a surprise to her - ‘But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end" ' (Luke 1:29-33).
Mary responded to this announcement: "How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:34-35). The conception and birth of the Messiah was a divine work. Man had no part in it and what was humanly impossible, God accomplished by His miraculous power “for with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37)
A Manger in Bethlehem Ephrathah
Prophecy foretold were the Messiah would be born -
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.” Micah 5:2
And God arranged that Mary would be there to give birth to Jesus. A decree from Caesar Augustus for the registration of all citizens in the empire in view of taxation brought Joseph to Bethlehem, his ancestral home. Mary 'his espoused wife' (Luke 2:5) was with him and while there her time to give birth arrived. Scripture records her experience: ‘She brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn' (Luke 2:7).
Why there was no room in the inn, scripture does not say but obviously many people were travelling for the enrolment and needed places to stay so everywhere would have been crowded. You would think though that someone could have made room for them considering Mary's condition, but no one did and evidently the only place available was an adjoining animal stall or a nearby cave that housed animals. In such an environment Mary gave birth. A manger was a feeding trough for animals and it was evidently the only thing suitable and available to Mary as a cot for her newborn son. There is nothing exceptional in our world about children being born into humble and poor circumstances, neither then nor now, but for the Christ to be born in such lowly and primitive conditions is a marvel indeed since the grandest palace on earth wouldn't have been good enough for Him who came from highest glory.
The situation couldn't have been easy for Mary. While her conception was supernatural there is no reason to think that the birth of Jesus was other than natural. There, surrounded by a few animals (assuming they were present) with all the associated sounds and smells and no one but Joseph to aid her through the experience of childbirth, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son.
Shepherds had received an angelic visit and heard a heavenly announcement concerning this child - 'Behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger”’ (Luke 2:9-12). There probably wasn’t any other baby boys lying in mangers that night therefore the shepherds would have had no doubt when they found the Christ child.
The true purpose for the coming of the Son of God into this world was expressed by the angel - He came as the Saviour not only for Israel but for the world (John 4:42). But why could He not have been Saviour without ever becoming human? If divine power alone could have saved the world then He didn't need to come for He who made the universe by the power of His word could easily have saved men in the same way. But something more was needed to provide salvation for the human race. God is holy and God is love; His holiness requires that sin be judged, but His love provides the answer and that answer was to send His Son into the world so that He could and would die upon a cross for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). The fact is that the Son of God became human in order to die for us! He was truly, and of necessity Immanuel - God with us (Matthew 1:22-23).
Hark! The herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King: Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!" Joyful, all ye nations, rise, Join the triumph of the skies; With angelic host proclaim, "Christ is born in Bethlehem!"
Hark! The herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King"
Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord, Late in time behold him come, Offspring of the Virgin's womb: Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate Deity, Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all he brings, Risen with healing in his wings. Mild he lays his glory by, Born that we no more may die, Born to raise us from the earth, Born to give us second birth.