This is day thirteen of contemplation in the 25 Gifts of the Nativity series. I am glad you are here. May these devotions draw you into the gift of Christ this season.
I don’t believe that Jesus was born in a stable.
Yes, it paints a lovely picture and framework for the nativity sets placed around our homes, but I am not certain that the lean-to shelters represent the actual story of Christ’s birth. In a strange sort of way, the quiet rawness of a barn birth is too extraordinary for what God had intended. If Christ had been born in a castle as he deserved, the story would be inaccessible to our minds. So, too is the late night, immediate, all alone, barn story. I think his birth, like life, was much more ordinary than that.
1. No where in the Bible does it stay that Jesus was born in a barn, stall, or lean to out back. Yes, it says that he was laid in a manger, but couldn’t that just be a make shift crib? No where in the Bible does it say that he was born in the middle of the night (though perhaps he could have been), or that it happened immediately when they arrived (as if she was in labor while riding a donkey. Oh yeah no mention of a donkey either). No where in the Bible does it say that they were all alone. There is nobody else named, but they aren’t the star of the story anyway. No where in the Bible does it say that there was an innkeeper that told them there was no room. Yes, it says that there was no room for them in the inn, but we will get to that in a moment.
2. It makes no sense that a Jewish culture would completely neglect a young (12-14) year old pregnant girl, sending her out to the barn with no assistance. If a stranger (although I don’t think Mary was a stranger to these people) came to my door and was with child, I would do my best to find more suitable accommodations. I would give up my own bedroom for goodness sake! I would try to find a doctor to help, or at least offer hot water, linens, and food. How much more would a people who extol the value of community and children be likely to bend over backwards for a person in need?
3. Mary and Joseph were traveling back to the land of their relatives. In fact, so were their own parents. There would be aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins, and other distant relatives traveling to the same small town. I am sure it was a big family reunion and that the community would have been offended if Mary and Joseph didn’t come to stay with them. That said, I bet that all the aunties, moms, and matriarchs of the family shooed the menfolk away and fussed over Mary, helping her to deliver her firstborn child.
4. There was probably no hotel-like inn in Bethlehem. There isn’t even such a place in my hometown, which is far larger than Bethlehem was at that time. There are two greek words translated “inn” in the New Testament. One is the word, pandocheion, which is the word used in the story of the Good Samaritan, who took the beaten traveller to receive shelter and care.
This word is a hotel, or bed and breakfast like place, where strangers would go for the night. The other is the word, kataluma, which is used three times in Scripture: twice in the nativity story, and once to refer to the room where Jesus had his last supper. This word actually means “guest room”. Homes in that day had split-level, open air construction. The upper level was a sort of large family room with a private, adjacent guest room in the corner. The lower level (at the entrance) was where animals, the family’s livelihood, were housed for the night for warmth and protection. It is here where there would be feeding troughs.
There was no room for Mary and Joseph in the guest room because other relatives (usually important and prominent ones) were already occupying it, but they probably had a place (at the very least) in the lower level of the home. Yes, there was not room for Jesus in the inn at his birth, but there was room in the inn the night before his death.
I love the traditional images of the Christmas story and the emotions that they evoke. I love the simplicity, the humbleness, the picture of the distance that God came for us. In some ways it makes little difference in what type of dwelling Jesus was born, except for one thing.
He came to dwell among us.
To feel what we feel.
To experience what we experience.
To live a normal human life.
To dwell in the mundane.
To be a commoner
And to show us that there is extraordinary in the ordinary, and significance in the insignificant. That rich, abundant, full, meaningful life can take place in circumstances that aren’t all that special.
Many of us may never live a life of unusual circumstances, good or bad. But the indwelling Spirit of Christ gives us identity, imparts meaning, and makes us extraordinary.
Let’s be content in the gift of the ordinary, because beautiful things reside there if we only have eyes to see.