By the time Mary was heavily pregnant, the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. In the absence of an electronic or even postal system, everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. There was a lot of movement that year! Mary went with Joseph from Nazareth up to Bethlehem for the census.
Now in those days the conversation never took place like it does today:
“Are you going to find out what it is?” There were no scans, no way of finding out anything about the child before it was born. So if you asked any first century mother-to-be if she knew what her child was going to be, she would probably look at you strangely and answer something like:
“Er… a human?”
But IF anyone had asked Mary, “do you know if it will be a boy or a girl?” she COULD have answered, a boy called Jesus! But if she HAD answered, “an angel told me it will be a boy” they’d have probably thought she was almost as deluded as when she’d claimed she was still a virgin. Fortunately Mary kept a lot of her thoughts to herself.
She did give birth to a son in Bethlehem. God’s Son. God’s heart expressed in a human form. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room at the inn and there certainly weren’t any hospitals never mind maternity wards. So a manger it was.
There were shepherds camping nearby. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. Perhaps Gabriel had learned that however subtle an angel was, people would always be scared, so you might as well go all-out with blazing glory and have a little fun.
Result: the shepherds were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Saviour has just been born in David’s town, a Saviour who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
Just as the shepherds were getting over the overwhelming sight, the angels put on their visual finale: a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.
As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the shepherds talked it over:
“Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the shepherds were amazed.
Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The shepherds returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. After all, it had turned out exactly the way they’d been told!