The Christmas story very well may be the best-known story from the Bible, if not of all time. It’s a common Christmas tradition to pull out the Bible, flip open to Luke 2, and start reading. However common this story may be, there are a few things that many people don’t know.
1. Not a taxing. Rather, a census.
We know in the Christmas story in the Bible that Mary and Joseph had to return to their native city of Bethlehem to be taxed. This is better to be understood as a census, rather than a taxing.
Elder James E. Talmage wrote: “The taxing herein referred to may properly be understood as an enrollment, or a registration, whereby a census of Roman subjects would be secured, upon which as a basis the taxation of the different peoples would be determined. This particular census was the second of three such general registrations recorded by historians as ocurring at intervals of about twenty years. Had the census been taken by the usual Roman method, each person would have been enrolled at the town of his residenece; but the Jewish custom, for which the Roman law had respect, necessitated registration at the cities or towns claimed by the respective families as their ancestral homes.” (Jesus the Christ, pg. 91-92.)
2. Joseph and Mary were cousins
Prohibited in our society today, Joseph and Mary were actually cousins. Similarly, Christ and John the Baptist were (second) cousins as well, with John being only six months senior to Jesus.
3. Mary and the espousal period
Under the law, anyone who was unfaithful to their future spouse during the engagement period could be punished by death (Deut. 22:23-24).
When Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant, imagine the anger and embarrasment that he must have felt, knowing that the child was not his. Joseph then had two options: One, he could demand that Mary attend a public court trial (which at that time, most likely would have resulted in death anyway) or two, Joseph could break the espousal contract in front of various witnesses, but have it done privately.
True to Joseph’s character, he chose to sever the marriage in private, rather than a large public setting. Although he could have been bitter and selfish, his love for Mary was true, and he desired to save her all the humiliation possible.
Talmage wrote: “Joseph was a just man, a strict observer of the law, yet no harsh extremist; moreover he loved Mary and would save her all unncecessary humiliation, whahtever might be his own sorrow and suffering. For Mary’s sake he dreaded the thought of publicity; and therefore determined to have the espousal annulled with such privacy as the law allowed.” (Jesus the Christ, p.84.)
4. Joseph passed the test
In all that had happened with Mary becoming pregnant, I imagine that it was, at least in part, a test from the Lord to see how Joseph would act in such a situation. And Joseph did indeed pass the test.
Only after Joseph had made his decision to privately annull the marriage did an angel appear to him. Not before. The angel then instructed him to take Mary as his wife.
5. Christ’s birthplace fulfilled a prophecy
As stated earlier, Joseph and Mary were not natives to Bethlehem. But due to the census taking place, Joseph and Mary traveled from their home in Nazareth. Unknown to them, it fulfilled the prophecy in Micah 5:2 which reads:
“But thou, Beth-lehem 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 of Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”
6. When the wise men arrived, Christ was not a baby
Many films tend to portray the wise men arriving upon the scene of the Savior’s birth, as Christ lays in a manger. It took more than a few months for the wise men to travel to see Jesus.
In Matthew 2:11, we read, “And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child… and fell down, and worshipped him.”
It’s important to note two things from this verse. The word “house” (they were no longer in a stable) and the words “young child” (Jesus was no longer a baby).