Luke had previously explained how an angel had appeared to Mary to tell her that she would be the mother of the Messiah. He interrupted the story to tell us about the birth of John the Baptist. Last time we saw Mary, she had spent three months with Elizabeth and then returned home. The angel had told Mary that she’d conceive and bear a son (1:31-35), and now we find out that she’s pregnant and about ready to give birth.
This passage is probably one of the best-known sections of the book, perhaps of the entire NT. We read it or hear it read virtually every Christmas; sometimes we hear it several times during the holiday. So we are probably quite familiar with it, if indeed we don’t have it memorized.
A couple of important themes in this passage to watch for are 1) God’s sovereign control over world events. God is orchestrating the decisions of world rulers so that Mary and Joseph end up where God wants them to be when they need to be there. 2) The humble estate into which God’s Messiah enters the human story. Jesus’ parents are humble peasants, and Jesus is born in just about the most modest circumstances imaginable. He doesn’t even have a crib or cradle to lie in, but spends his first days in a feeding trough.