Today we get to attend another circumcision ceremony. This one is for baby Jesus. It takes place in the synagogue in Bethlehem eight days after Jesus’ birth. My bible lumps this verse in with the shepherds account but I wanted to break it out by itself.
As Jesus is a Jewish baby, He will follow all the rules and regulations associated with His birth. The first requirement is circumcision. During this ceremony His name will also be bestowed on Him. Mary and Joseph are still in Bethlehem. Not surprising after just giving birth. Mary needed time to recuperate. I wonder if hers was an easy labor and delivery. Being a first child this is likely not the case. Also being a virgin complicates matters a little more. Maybe that is another reason why God prepared a private birth place for them. Can you imagine the look on the midwife’s face if she had “peeked under the hood” and found the proof of Mary’s virginity intact while at the same time preparing to deliver a baby? That would have been one HUGE shock and probably a wildfire story.
As this census involved all of Israel, I wouldn’t doubt that Mary and Joseph’s families were in Bethlehem too. I wonder where they stayed. Did they all travel there together? Did the families attend Jesus’ circumcision? It was a family event, yet they are not mentioned in either account of Jesus’ birth.
During the circumcision Joseph is not hampered as Zechariah was, so he easily named his new Son exactly what was imparted to him and to Mary. There was no need for discussion between this couple over the Child’s name. Also no reason for Mary to interrupt the proceedings as Elizabeth needed to do. Did their families think this an unusual name? I’m certain no one spoke of it before the ceremony, per custom, but afterwards did anyone question their choice?
After the ceremony was complete, Mary and Joseph stayed on in Bethlehem. Tomorrow we will read about them traveling to Jerusalem for the formal presentation and sacrifice required by the law. But I want to look for a moment at why they stayed in Bethlehem, until the visit by the magi anyway. This actually just occurred to me today as I was thinking about our reading.
Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy sometime AFTER it began. She did not inform him of her condition before leaving to visit Elizabeth. She probably didn’t know HOW to tell him. She was with Elizabeth for three months. I don’t know if Joseph found out while she was still away by some “well-meaning friend” or if he figured it out after she returned. We are not told that they married while she was away with Elizabeth, so she was at least three months along before their wedding.
Their wedding had to be a bit unconventional. They didn’t want to throw any suspicion on Jesus’ parentage or ruin Mary’s reputation, so things had to be done quickly and privately. No best man waiting outside the tent for the proof of virginity to be handed to him. No formfitting dresses displaying the “baby bump.” And no nosey neighbors looking for telltale signs of reasons for a rushed marriage.
I’m sure Mary and Joseph never lied about her due date or time of conception, but they probably avoided this subject or answered it as vaguely as possible. Most people know quite well how long it takes for a full term baby to be born. Also it is usually very easy to distinguish between a preemie and a full term baby. Jesus was NOT a preemie. Friends and neighbors in Nazareth would easily see that. Mary and Joseph, still wanting to protect Jesus from gossip, decided to stay put where they were. No one knew them in Bethlehem. Their families could return to Nazareth without them and share the news of the unexpected delivery. After all, traveling on such a long journey could easily induce labor, including early labor.
As a carpenter, Joseph’s skills could be employed anywhere. He could easily find work wherever they went. He may have even brought some of his tools along on the journey, knowing how close Mary was to delivery. They may have felt this census was a God send for their future. We know it was, but did they?
I don’t know how many nights Mary and Joseph spent in the stable before finding temporary lodging. As the census probably took at least a few days, they may have spent the week there. But they didn’t remain there. They finally moved into a home of their own in Bethlehem. It was probably a rented home, as they were not wealthy individuals and they were also able to abandon it in the middle of the night when called on to do so.
When they finally returned to Nazareth with their whole family in tow, Jesus was past the point of distinction between preemie and full term baby. Another situation handled efficiently by God.
Father God, You worked with both of Jesus’ parents to ensure He was protected from scorn growing up. I don’t know how You handled Mary and Joseph’s families but I know You did. Jesus was not labeled as illegitimate and Mary did not suffer public humiliation for His conception before marriage. Only after His death and resurrection did the full truth come out. Thank You for protecting all of them, including His earthly father. You show us once again that You know what lies ahead in our lives. You leave nothing to chance.
I can trust You with my life, just as Mary and Joseph trusted You with theirs. I recognize that there is not as much at stake in my life as there was in Jesus’, but I KNOW You care for me just the same. Thank You for Your hand in my life. I often miss what it is You are trying to accomplish until I’m on the other side of it. Thank You that You remind me to look back whenever I’m feeling nervous about what is ahead. You carried me this far, You are not about to quit now. Thank You for Your promise to see me all the way through.