Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
I can’t believe I have forgotten the Sermon Redux for last week’s sermon. I have been very distracted with finals but this should not have happened. Every Christmas is challenge in presenting the story of Christmas in a new way or from a new angle. This year I have decided to focus on the first days of Jesus’ earthly life. In this series I hope to show the profound impact that Jesus had even as only an infant child.
The birth of Jesus is actually quite ordinary. The only real thing that is difficult is the fact that because there is no room for Jesus at the inn. Mary gives birth and it is not in a comfortable place. The thing about mangers in a city like Bethlehem is that they would have actually been more likely that they would have been in a place that was highly public. Our western minds always like to think that privacy is a big deal but the mind of the time where people lived in tents and had one room houses would not have had this notion. It has been my contention that Jesus was born in the area of the caravan drivers where they kept and feed their camels and such for the night. Probably this was right on the street in front of the inn.
We also need to remember Bethlehem is crowded at this time. Jesus’ coming into the world was not a private matter. Perhaps Mary got a makeshift blanket barrier so she could give birth without too many prying eyes but her screams of labor would have been heard and when Jesus cried out for the first time there would have been a smile on a lot of lips and when it was announced that it was a boy there would have been joy for Joseph for he is assumed by everyone to be the father. To all observation a normal birth and worthy of some congratulations.
Mary and Joseph probably though had a different perspective and I think that of all the people impacted by Jesus’ actual birth it is probably them. For Mary it is vindication but there is nothing to mark Jesus as anything but an ordinary child and so she might have had mixed feelings. Joseph is pondering being always conceived of as Jesus’ father even though he knows it is not true, but he is ready to lay down his life for this child who both of them know is the holy one of God and the messiah. A slice of heaven wrapped in an ordinary form of humanity and wrapped with swaddling clothes probably cut from the hem of Mary’s dress.
This is perhaps the great lesson of Jesus’ actual birth. That heaven can be wrapped in the ordinary. Too many times we are looking for the miracles of Christmas in grand forms and the truth is far more mundane in appearance. Heaven often casts itself resembling the ordinary and it is God working inside things that is providing the extraordinary. The challenge is to keep our eyes open and see these slices of heaven in the ordinary things of Christmas. Right now the scene is that a Jewish could gave birth to a son and that is a normal ordinary thing externally but that is about to change.