“She brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger; for there was no room for them in the Inn.” Luke 2:7
Although I said the most recent post was my final study on the Christmas narratives, some other ideas had been brewing in my head and seemed to beg to be said.
You’ve probably already captured in your own imagination and experience and memory some of the humanity of the story. No matter what Hallmark artists and others have done to beautify and sanitize the situation, the reality remains. Jesus’ birth occurred in an enclosure of some sort where farm animals were kept; in the middle of abject poverty. I do mean abject poverty. For most of us, that’s incomprehensible. We cannot even begin to view the event from God’s perspective. Paul tried to describe the descent (He spoke of how Jesus, equal with God, took on himself the form of man, identified Himself forever with the lowest, lost, poorest of our race, humbled Himself and became obedient unto death. . . yes, by one of the cruelest means of torture ever devised by man. The method of crucifixion which came later wasn’t meant simply to punish. It was designed to torture, humiliate, and extend the agony and excruciating pain beyond the limits of human civility or endurance. While still a young man, He suffered and was executed like a criminal, among criminals. While soldiers bullied a helpless prisoner. While a gawking, insensitive public spat and ridiculed Him. ).
As eloquent and spiritual as he was, Paul failed to probe the depths of the mystery of the Incarnation.
Look at some of the grimy reality.
His “cradle” was a “manger.” Now that’s a sort of nice word, made especially so when we think of it in this context. Let’s peel off the sentimental layers we’ve attached to this idea and get to the reality. It was a feed trough. It was the crudely constructed place where the animals ate their hay, or whatever was available for them to eat. And knowing that was the place where they normally got fed, chances are some of them (sheep, goats, cows, no pigs, gratefully. No Jew would have allowed such.) were probably milling around. Smelling and searching for food, not knowing what to do about this helpless little Baby who’d taken over their space. It was their feed trough! Perhaps there was a bit of straw which hadn’t been eaten, leftovers from earlier meals, to soften the place a bit. But it was a feeding bin.
Mary brought forth her first-born son. We don’t even know for sure there was a ‘midwife’ around. Other weary travelers had their own dire circumstances with which to deal. Having been a young father myself, I can probably identify a bit with Joseph. I wouldn’t have had a clue what to do. When Jo Lynn (my first born) got here, I was so excited I almost kissed the wrong new mother! It didn’t get any easier when the others came. My son, Brad, arrived right in the middle of final exams my second year in Seminary. As evidence of my brilliant foresight and strategic planning, I’d also committed to help in a revival in Greensboro, North Carolina. That’s right. At the same time all these other events were unfolding. So, in a blur of activity, I’d commute early in the day to seminary (about fifty miles from my home), run by the house to grab a bite and try to cram for the next exam, then hustle off to the meeting. In the middle of that, my wife told me she was about ready to go. Great timing! I ran to the corner of our bedroom, stuck my head out the window and hollered out to my Dad (who’d been helping me with some project at our house) that “she’s gotta go. Now!!” I quickly turned to do some more running in circles and cracked my head on the corner of a large aquarium, which was angled where the windows came together in the bedroom corner. It had sharp corners and the cut wasn’t pretty. Excitement and confusion deteriorated into near chaos, but we managed to get to the hospital in time. Just in time!
And I had help. The hospital wasn’t more than three or four miles from home. And when I got to the hospital, the staff took charge quickly and efficiently and took care of things. Joseph had none of the amenities I did, but I guarantee you as a young father he didn’t win any awards for being “super cool!”
And dear, dear Mary! I can’t know how she felt, but for sure it wasn’t ho hum time or “business as usual.” The Bible says she was “great with child.” Friends, that means she was very, very pregnant! Any mother knows the apprehension she must have felt. . . especially given the circumstances Exhausted from the travel. Labor contractions getting closer and closer. Probably in her early or mid teens. Far from home. No help. The burdens of travel and taxes, neither of which they could afford. How would the baby do? Who’d cut and tie the umbilical cord? And, surely, she must have known her neighbors might be aghast at the idea of her being so young and so pregnant! They head no idea what was going on. And, surely, their idle tongues were wagging! Mary must have suspected as much.
Then she “wrapped Him in swaddling clothes.” Each of my children has had “receiving blankets.” Nice. Really nice. Soft, pretty, made of good material. Linda, my wife now, really got wrapped up in stuff like this a while back when her daughter had twins. You’d have thought she was going to deliver them, not just be able to spoil them rotten. And they had to have, of course, really nice “receiving blankets.” Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes. I’m not certain what kind of textiles were available in Palestine at the time. China had by then mastered the production of silk. But what was the “blanket” really like? My guess is it was something akin to burlap. Mary did the best she could to make it as comfortable as possible, but she didn’t have access even to Downy Fabric Softener. The dictionary says simply that swaddling clothes are strips of rags towrap and bind. Swaddling clothes, I suppose, were fairly crudely woven fabric, certainly the best she could afford. But it made me wonder.
And the Birth event probaly actually took place outback, perhaps behind the little hotel outside somewhere, because “there was no room for them in the Inn.” We can’t conclude with absolute certainty there was a shed overhead. Or even a cave enclosure. The Scriptural account gives scant details in this regard. We never knew anything about the size of the Inn or name of the Inn or the Innkeeper. It was obviously a small place, unprepared for such a sudden surge of travelers who were weary from travel, aggravated, irritated, and frustrated to the point of explosive anger at the reason which forced them to come to Bethlehem in the first place.
PLEASE, don’t judge the Innkeeper too harshly or too quickly. He was probably just an honest, hard working guy, trying to make an honest living. Trying to deal with a growing, ornery, impatient crowd. Knowing he had to “make hay while the sun was shining,” and it was for sure shining on him right then. He took in as many as he could and they were probably stacked and packed like cordwood, wall to wall people in every possible square inch of space. In the rooms, out in the halls, in the vestibule. And a line was probably backed up at the check in desk trailing out into the courtyard where some were already camping out. What was the poor guy to do? How was he to know that on his watch, in his place, without making a reservation, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords was about to make His entrance?
So, the sign, “Sorry, No Vacancy” is understandable. Did you ever hear the haunting spiritual: “Sweet Little Jesus Boy, born long time ago. Sweet little Holy Child; We didn’t know who you was. Didn’t know you’d come to save us Lord, to wash our sins away. Our eyes was blind. We couldn’t see. We didn’t know Who You was.”
That poor, overworked, busy, harried Innkeeper. He didn’t know. He just didn’t know.
But you and I do.
Wouldn’t it be wise to take down the “No Vacancy sign” today. Right Now. If you have to evict some unruly tenants, or turn down some attractive occupant/applicants, wouldn’t it make sense to make place for Him?
In this time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, how wise and beautiful are the words the little children sing: “Into my heart. Into my heart. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Come in today. Come in to stay. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.”
Have a joyous Holy Day!
Your brother, friend, fellow student and God’s servant, ~donkimrey