It has been said that “it is always darkest just before dawn.” If you get up very early while it still dark, or have had an occasion to stay up all night, perhaps you have experienced this perception. It seems to get exceptionally dark, just before the first signs of dawn.
These experts also tell us that there is no difference in the light of the night sky just before dawn – it is NOT really darker just before dawn; it is simply a matter of perception and perspective. The longer we are without light, the more we notice the dark, especially when there is no moon to brighten our night. It seems we subconsciously question whether the sun will ever come up again!
Just before the dawn of the Promised Messiah being born, there were some moments that must have been perceived as dark and scary for Mary and Joseph, yet the dawn was just around the corner! Let’s look at three, and see how the Lord used them for His glory.
First, there was The Darkness of a Government Mandate. Luke 2:1 and 3 says, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (3) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.”
History tells us that Caesar Augustus was a pompous ruler who was full of himself, thinking of himself like a god. He was intent on expanding his position and the Roman Empire and mandated a first-of-its-kind census and tax that facilitated his agenda. His mandate did not care about the inconvenience that it caused world-wide, or about who was hurt in the process.
Here’s the irony of this mandate: while Caesar Augustus was working on expanding his “godhood” status with this mandate, he facilitated the prophesied birthplace of the true Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Years before, Micah 5:2 had specified that Christ would be born in Bethlehem. In the midst of this government overreach, God was being glorified and prophecy was being fulfilled, because this mandate required Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem for Christ’s birth.
That leads us to the Second thing Joseph and Mary faced: The Darkness of a Difficult Trip. In two short verses we read the words about their trip, perhaps without much thought as to its difficulty: Luke 2:4-5, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) (5) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.”
Bethlehem is about five miles South of Jerusalem, and about 70 miles directly South of Nazareth. When the Bible says that they went “up from Galilee,” it is because Bethlehem is higher in elevation. It is likely that Joseph and Mary, who was very pregnant, descended from Nazareth’s 1138 feet of elevation, down to the plains and forest along the Jordan River, then climbed back up the mountains surrounding Jerusalem to Bethlehem’s 2543 feet – all without a car. This route was probably more than ninety miles, and took them several days over every different type of terrain – forest, plains, deserts, and mountains.
The Bible says little about Joseph and Mary during this time. We know that Mary had joyfully submitted to serving the Lord in bringing Christ into the World. I know this: a trip like this had to have been tiring and trying to their joy; yet, God was working through this trip to fulfill in detail His prophetic Word!
Finally, there was The Darkness of an Imperfect Birthplace. Luke 2:6-7 tells us, “And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. (7) And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Every new mother that I know makes plans for the way that she wants the birth to go – safely, comfortably, and memorably. This Birth had none of those elements, except maybe the memorable part. There simply was no room in the inn, so Jesus was born in perhaps a stable or cave, without the privacy and security that normally accompanies birth. Instead of that specially chosen first outfit, Baby Jesus was simply swaddled in cloths. Instead of that ideal and beautiful bassinet, He took His first naps in an animals’ manger.
But the dawn had come! The Messiah was born! On a countryside nearby, the angel of the Lord was bringing good tidings of great joy for all people: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (12) And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12)
Those moments of perceived darkness for Joseph and Mary were not darkness at all! They were being proclaimed by the angel of God as a sign, pointing the way to the Messiah! The mandate – the trip – the Messiah in a manger – were all wrapped up now into a wonderful, glorious Christmas gift that was pointing the way for the whole world to receive Salvation!
Perhaps you have experienced some dark days, Christian. If you will let Him, God knows how to use those events to turn darkness into His glorious light. Don’t give up the fight – depend upon Him for strength instead. “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:6)