One of the men stepped forward and spoke for them all. “We are shepherds. My name is Josiah, and these are my friends. We were watching our sheep tonight and we saw … we saw …” he looked at his friends for support and they nodded their encouragement for him to continue. “We saw an angel!”
“BAH! What good is the word of a shepherd? You are either lying or drunk,” one of the patrons said, dismissing him with a wave of his arm.
“We are neither drunkards nor liars. I tell you, we saw an angel of the Lord! I am not lying. He actually appeared to us and it was terrifying. The angel said to us, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the city of David, a Saviour has been born to you – he is Christ the Lord.’
“Then he said, ‘This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Then if that wasn’t enough to shock us, there were all kinds of heavenly beings that appeared in the sky with the angel and they were praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.’”
Josiah looked at the faces around him and seeing he had everyone’s interest, he continued. “What I am saying is the truth. When the angels went back into heaven, we decided to come to Bethlehem to see for ourselves this event which the Lord had told us about. So, we have gone to every inn and home around Bethlehem to see if any babies have been born. We ask again … is this where the child lies?”
Heli knew at once that his grandson (God’s son) had been born. He turned to the men and said, “Follow me.”
“I have not seen Jacob at all. But let me tell you –”
“Oh, Joseph, please help me!” Mary cried from the back of the wagon. “It’s getting closer!”
“Heli, what are we to do? She can’t have the baby in the street!”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, Joseph. We have a place.” Heli grabbed the reigns of the oxen from Joseph and started to drive them through the crowd.
“A room? You have a room? Well, why didn’t you say so?” Joseph sighed with relief. “Mary, it’s all right, we are going to our room now. Can you hang on?”
“I don’t know, Joseph. Please hurry!” she sobbed. They went as quickly as they could to the far end of the street, where Heli directed Joseph to the back of an inn.
“What’s this?” Joseph asked as they neared the entrance to the stables.
“Your room,” Heli declared as he carefully retrieved Mary from the back of the cart.
“You can’t be serious?” Joseph protested as he watched Heli carry Mary to a stall in the back of the stable. “Heli, she cannot give birth in a stable.”
Heli laid his daughter on a fresh bed of hay covered with a blanket. He stood, then turned to face his bewildered son-in-law.
“She can and she will. It’s clean, it’s warm, and it’s private.” Heli was adamant and Joseph could tell by the look on his face that his father-in-law would not change his mind.
“It’s fine, Joseph,” Mary whispered, her strength waning. “It’s fine.”
Joseph, clearly at a loss, looked to Rebekah, who arrived with warm water and fresh cloths. Surely, she would agree with him. Mary could not give birth here – could she?
Rebekah pleaded silently for Heli to take Joseph outside. She placed a comforting arm on her son-in-law and said, “It is as it should be, Joseph. We have cleaned out the stall. We have fresh hay. We are even using the cattle’s feeding trough as a little crib for the baby. Go now. Mary will be fine.”
At first, he had been frustrated that he would be forced to leave his wife for such a ridiculous reason. Then his frustration had turned to outrage when a Roman official told him that his wife had to go with him – no excuses.
“How could she possibly stand the journey? She is with child and is approaching her final month,” he had argued. “Surely Caesar Augustus would not expect her to endure such a trip?”
The official had smirked and said, “Caesar expects only one thing, and that is obedience from his subjects. If you fail to comply, you will suffer the consequences.” Joseph had not bothered to find out what those consequences would be. Instead, he had turned and stomped away.
As he neared his home, he saw Mary talking animatedly to her mother and father. All three seemed upset and Joseph knew at once that they had heard about the edict. Heli’s and Rebekah’s concern for their daughter’s welfare was evident.
“I see you’ve heard about Caesar’s plans?” Joseph asked as he waved the edict in his hands.
Heli turned to him and with a sad shake of his head said, “This is ridiculous, Joseph. To force a woman with child to take such a journey …,” he trailed off, overcome with worry for his daughter and unborn grandchild.
Rebekah reached out to comfort him and asked, “What if she just didn’t go? How would they know? So many people will be there, after all. Would it really matter if one girl was missing from the crowd?”
“Perhaps not,” Joseph said. “But I would never be able to leave Mary alone while I go to Bethlehem. She could have the baby and there would be no one here to help her.”
“I suppose if they wouldn’t miss one girl, they probably wouldn’t miss her mother either, would they Heli?” Rebekah asked.
Heli smiled and shook his head. “We will all go to Bethlehem. I myself must register. There is no other way.”
Mary nodded. “It must be this way, Ima. Do you not see how Yahweh has arranged this census? For it is written: ‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.’ Everything is as it should be,” Mary said with confidence.
Heli nodded slowly, his weary eyes dawning with understanding. “She is right. Everything is unfolding as it should. I forget sometimes, my daughter, the miracle of whose child you carry.”
“You know, I recall the Rabbi speaking those very verses last Sabbath,” Joseph added, “and I have been pondering on them ever since – about what it meant, concerning the babe Mary carries. God’s Son, if He is to be the ruler over Israel, must come out of Bethlehem to fulfill the Scriptures.” He shook his head in amazement. “I was wondering how we were going to end up in Bethlehem. God is using Caesar’s evil census to get us there.” He laughed. “God is great! We need not worry for Mary, for He does indeed have everything in His control.”
 Micah 5:2