If God is sovereign in His purposes, His sovereignty is no less displayed in His selection of instrumentalities for their fulfilment. More than seven hundred years before the birth of Christ the prophet Micah had said in the name of Jehovah, "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me, that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting." That this was regarded as a prediction of the birth-place of the Messiah, is shown from the fact that it was quoted by the chief priests and scribes in answer to Herod's question where Christ should be born. But Mary's home was at Nazareth in Galilee, and the time was drawing near for the birth of her holy Child; and lo, "it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world [the "habitable world" - the Roman empire] should be taxed." The effect of this decree was that Joseph (together with Mary, his espoused wife, being great with child), was compelled, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to go up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem. Little did the Roman emperor know what would be the consequence of the thought which had come into his mind. As a writer has remarked, "This act only accomplishes the marvellous purpose of God, causing the Saviour-king to be born in the village where, according to the testimony of God, that event was to take place." And what is so remarkable is, that though the decree was issued, and Joseph and Mary, doubtless with many others, repaired to their city to be enregistered, it would yet appear that the census was not actually made until some time afterwards, "when Cyrenius was governor of Syria." How admirable the wisdom of God, and the perfection of His ways! Joseph must take Mary his wife to Bethlehem, and God constrains the emperor to set the machinery of his empire in motion that Joseph may be compelled to go. What a proof it is that God still holds the reins of government in His hands, and that He turns the hearts of men whithersoever He will! The Christian believes and knows it; and he thus rests in peace in the midst of all the busy activities of men, and amid all the confusion, turbulence, and strife which prevail on every hand.
It was while Joseph and Mary were at Bethlehem that Mary "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." (v. 7.) It is no part of our object to consider the Incarnation at this time: we are rather concerned with the personal history of Mary. We venture, however, to offer the reflections of another upon this stupendous event, upon this mystery of mysteries: "The Son of God is born in this world, but He finds no place there. The world is at home, or at least by its resources it finds a place, in the inn; it becomes a kind of measure of man's place in, and reception by, the world; the Son of God finds none, save in the manger. Is it for nothing that the Holy Ghost records this circumstance? No! There is no room for God, and that which is of God, in this world. So much the more perfect, therefore, is the love that brought Him down to earth. But He began in a manger, and ended on the cross, and along the way He had not where to lay His head." So it was; and surely, as believers, we are constrained to bow with reverence and adoration in the presence of our God, as we contemplate the manner in which He became "God manifest in flesh," and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich. And while thus prostrate before Him, let us remember that to effect the gracious purposes of His love, to redeem His people, whether Israel or the Church, entailed upon Him rejection in life and the cross in death. That Child who lay in the manger was "the object of all the counsels of God, the Upholder and Heir of all creation, the Saviour of all who shall inherit glory and eternal life." It is no wonder, consequently, that Mary was hidden through all this time; not a word is recorded of what she felt, thought, or said, for in truth she was unseen behind the glory of her Child.
Mary and the Shepherds.
If we refer to these pious men, who were elected of God to receive the announcement of the birth of "a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord," it is only because of their connection with Mary's history. It was not with the great of the earth that God was at this moment concerned; but it was with His poor and afflicted people, amongst whom these shepherds were numbered. Divine communications can only be received by those whose hearts have been divinely prepared; and hence we may be confident that these humble men were amongst those that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. (See v. 38.) Thus it was to these, as they were keeping watch over their flock by night, that the angel was sent to carry them good tidings of great joy, which should be to all (the) people; and to certify their faith a sign was given unto them: "Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." No sooner had he delivered his message than "suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men" (good pleasure in men).
Leaving the devout reader to meditate upon these words, words which tell at least that all God's purposes of blessing for His people Israel were already realized in the Person of His beloved Son, we must follow the shepherds. With simple faith, without. a question as to the truth of what they had heard, they said one to another, "Let us now go even to Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known to us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger." What a sight it was that greeted their eyes! They might not have comprehended the full import of what they saw, or the glory of the Child. Still they saw Him, and, it cannot be doubted, with adoring hearts. Not a word is recorded of anything they or Mary or Joseph said. Is it because they were feasting their eyes upon the Saviour, Christ the Lord, as He lay there in the manger? And yet they must have spoken, for after the statement made concerning their testimony "about the country," and the effect it produced, it is said that "Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." Combining this with the last clause of verse 57, we gather that Mary was a quiet, meditative, reflective soul. Chosen for such a mission, and with such a charge, it could scarcely be otherwise. With even the feeblest sense of the character of her Child she must have been awed in the presence of God, and speech would be almost incongruous. Man would like to know more of her thoughts as she gazed upon the face of that wondrous Child, the One of whom Isaiah prophesied and said, "His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace"; but great as was the favour bestowed upon Mary, it was not she, but her Son, who was the object of heaven, the object of God's counsels, and the One in whom the glory of God would be upheld, vindicated, and made good even in this world. We can, however, admire the beautiful traits of her character which were so conspicuous in her pious and godly demeanour. (To be continued, D. V.)