Now it came about in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all were proceeding to register for the census, everyone to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register, along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. And it came about that while they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her first-born son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:1-7.
Luke records the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem at the command of Caesar Augustus. Notice how God sovereignly adjusts human history, working in the heart of the Roman Emperor to stir his thinking to demand a census so that Mary and Joseph would return to Bethlehem, thereby fulfilling OT prophecy (Micah 5:2). Notice also that Mary is still said to be engaged to Joseph here. Since the engagement period normally lasted a year, it is reasonable to believe that all of these events from the angel’s appearing to Mary to Jesus’ birth took place very quickly (within a year).
Jesus would have been born not in a palace as he deserved, but lowly in a manger, the place where common domestic animals fed. There was no room for the family in the inn, probably due to the influx of people for the census. Just as there was no room for Jesus’ family in the inn, so there would be no room for Jesus in Pharisaic Jewish society, no room for a king in Israel, no room for a suffering Messiah, and no room for his people as strangers in a foreign land today.
Also, contrary to many Sunday School Christmas pageants, the text does not present this account as though Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem and the same night she gives birth. Luke writes, “and it came about while they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth…” This gives the sense that they needed to remain in Bethlehem for some time for census purposes, and that while they were residing there, she gave birth during that time.