Caesar August issued a decree requiring everyone in the Roman world to register in their ancestral towns. Caesar, whose mobilization of the entire empire’s population, was God’s unwitting agent in the fulfillment of a Messianic prophecy.
“Mary, Mary,” Joseph probably protested, “Zechariah saw an angel. You’re just imagining that you did too.”
Her arguments in her defense were unconvincing since Joseph decided to divorce her secretly. It was nice of him to protect her from public disgrace, but it does reveal his disbelief in her Gabriel visitation story.
Then, in a dream, Gabriel told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Now it was Joseph who was confronted with the decision to believe God or go the way of Zechariah. It was a big decision because even if they got married, he would still have to take public responsibility for Mary’s pregnancy during their espousal period. He did, and that was courageous faith.
We potentially see a glimpse into the social and religious pressure they were under in their trip to Bethlehem. Joseph didn’t need to take Mary with him to be registered for the census, but he probably did so to protect her from gossip and emotional stress—although we can’t be sure. What we can be sure of is that you’ve got to have a solid reason to plop a pregnant woman, in her third trimester, on top of a donkey and take a long ride.
So, there they were, Mary uncomfortably rocking back and forth on the donkey, and Joseph trudging along into an uncertain future all because an angel appeared to Zechariah and then to them. This is not what they had planned for their lives. What did it all mean? They didn’t know, but their obedience to God demonstrated their courageous faith. They were the perfect match. The rest . . . is history.