Nestled in the Judean hills just south of Jerusalem stands Bethlehem, the ancient town whose claims to fame include being the site where David was anointed king and where the Messiah was born. Both Matthew and Luke mention this important location and how it relates to Jesus in their respective birth narratives.
Certain chief priests and scribes answered Herod’s paranoid question about where the Messiah would be born. “They said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’” (Matthew 2:5-6). This appears to be a loose quote of Micah 5:2-4, where the prophet spoke of a unique, future ruler in Israel who would come from Bethlehem but who would also have divine, eternal roots. Micah states that this ruler’s “…goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” For Matthew, Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem fulfills this prophecy: He was born as a man in Bethlehem but was ultimately God in the flesh.
In Luke 2:1-7, a Roman census called for Joseph to take Mary to register in the “city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David.” In that city, Mary gave birth to Jesus, wrapped him in cloth, and laid him in a manger. The humility of the scene is striking. The true King of Israel was born not in a palace but in a manger; and not in a free, sovereign Israel but under the compulsion of a Gentile ruler who forced Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem. For Luke, the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem meant the true King had arrived in the humblest fashion.