"She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." Luke 2:7
A few hundred years before Jesus was born, the prophet, Micah, had foretold that the Jewish Messiah was to be born in the village of Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph, the man to whom Mary was engaged, both lived in Nazareth. Nazareth was about 70 miles north of Bethlehem. Although 70 miles may not seem like a significant distance to us today but, considering that the countryside between Nazareth and Bethlehem was wilderness with very few inns or villages along the way, and considering that the only way to travel was by foot, it certainly must have seemed like a long way to Mary and Joseph. In fact, although Bethlehem was the place where both of their ancestors had lived –neither of them would ever have made this trip by choice –especially with Mary being 9 months pregnant. But they had no choice. The Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, had demanded that all Jewish people must return to their ancestral homes to be counted and to give an account of personal wealth for taxation. So Joseph, and his young, pregnant fiancée walked the long, difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
Unfortunately, when they finally arrived, they found that the sleepy little village of Bethlehem was the ancestral home to a lot of people. Since Bethlehem was normally a village of just a few hundred, they were not at all equipped to provide for the several thousand people who arrived for the census. Every home was filled, the local inn was filled, and still more people arrived daily.
To those who had found lodging, it must have been somewhat festive. I’m sure there was a good deal of drinking and singing and dancing as long lost cousins reunited. But for others the very fact that they were required to be in Bethlehem was a reminder that they were a conquered people. For a tired traveler with a very pregnant wife, it was frustrating.
I remember once when we were on vacation we decided to drive until dark and then start looking for a motel. When it was time to stop for the night, when we were very tired from driving all day, we started looking for a motel –only to find that there was not a motel anywhere with a vacancy. I mean, there were lots of motels, and every single one we stopped at was completely full. It had never occurred to me that every motel would be absolutely filled to capacity. We ended up driving another two hours before we found any place with a room open. And the motel where we finally found a vacancy was a shabby, dirty, run-down place that had holes in the bedding and dust and cobwebs in the corners and it didn’t smell very good. This is not one of our favorite family vacation moments. But for Mary and Joseph, this was worse.
They had been walking for days on end. Mary was pregnant, and her water had broken and the labor had begun. And there was absolutely no place to stay. Joseph must have knocked at every door in town. Joseph was desperate. Can you imagine? Mary couldn’t have her baby out in the street. Maybe he knocked again at the innkeeper’s door. The innkeeper had already told him there was no room. But, maybe he explained again why he so desperately needed a room. Maybe he begged and pleaded. We don’t know exactly what was said, but we do know that the innkeeper evidently agreed that the baby shouldn’t be born out in the street, and he allowed them to go around back and use the stable for a delivery room.
Of course, with all the travelers in town, the stable was full too. It had donkeys and all sorts of animals. And because it had been so hectic with all of the people arriving, I’m sure it had not been recently cleaned. It wasn’t ideal –but at least it was a place to rest, a place to lie down, a place to have a baby out of public view. And the Scriptures tell us that Jesus was born right there in that barn.
We like to picture the manger scene as a nice sterile place with clean, fresh hay, and clean stalls with pretty little sheep and maybe a friendly cow or two. And that’s alright for our nativity sets we put out to symbolize this scene and remind us of the circumstance of Jesus’ birth –I mean, who wants a dirty, smelly barn sitting out on the coffee table? But let’s be realistic. Jesus was born in a real barn with real sheep and real cows and real goats and maybe chickens. Real animals living in real barns don’t stay pretty and clean for very long. Jesus was born in the midst of musty hay and sweaty animals and manure and mice and cobwebs, and his mother wrapped him carefully in some rags and laid him carefully in the feeding trough so that the cows wouldn’t accidentally trample him while she rested. This is how God entered the world –the King of all Creation, Almighty God became a tiny baby, born to a teenage girl in a barn behind the local inn.
As I was reading about this and thinking about the implications it has for us, I started thinking about all those other people staying in Bethlehem. I started thinking about the innkeeper; God was born in his barn, and he didn’t even know it. And I started thinking about the other travelers and the guests at the inn and the people thronging the streets. God was being born right there where they were and they had no idea.
For hundreds of years the Jewish people had been waiting for and praying for the Messiah. For hundreds of years they had been praying and waiting and watching. Now the time had come. The prophecies were fulfilled. God became man. God became flesh. The Savior of mankind had been born –Messiah had come. And no one even noticed.
When morning came, I doubt anyone even thought twice about the pregnant teenager staying in the barn. Once daylight was upon them, there were chores to do, errands to run, people to see, places to go. The little village hummed with the hustle and bustle. Food merchants tried to outbid each other to get people’s attention. Merchants of all sorts hawked their wares. All of them were unaware that God had arrived.
This was clearly the most significant event in all of world history up to that point –God had become man. God’s plan for redemption and salvation had been put into action. Angels were amazed, but the humans were oblivious.
So, Christ, the Messiah, had come to Bethlehem, but Bethlehem didn’t even know it. These people who thronged the streets and hawked their wares and filled the inns –these people who had longed for and prayed for God to send the Messiah –these people missed the birth of God. They didn’t miss the advent of the Messiah because they were terrible people. Not at all –they were mostly good, devout Jewish people. These other people living in the village of Bethlehem didn’t miss the most important event in all of human history because they were hopelessly evil or wicked or cruel. They missed the birth of Jesus simply because they were too busy to notice.
That brings me to today. I wonder –do I really have to make the application? We sure are busy people aren’t we? We have much to do –don’t we? We are always busy people, but during holidays we are even busier than usual.
I want to encourage you to take a moment right now to stop and think of how much love God has shown us through this baby that was born. I want to invite you to pause for a moment -in a sense, to pause before the manger and look at Baby Jesus and think about God’s extraordinary love. God loved the world so much that He sent His only Son that whoever believes on Him will not perish, but have everlasting life. This is love –not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10) This is love –God sent His Son. Please, let’s not be too busy to notice.