I’ve been thinking for a while this morning about the birth of the Lord Jesus. What was God communicating through the circumstances of what happened in Bethlehem with the birth of His eternal Son.
For example, why didn’t He choose a more reliable stepfather for His Son? Mary was full term for goodness sakes!!! This pregnancy was not a sudden surprise development. Why did Joseph wait so long to get down to Bethlehem to register for the census?
And when they arrived in Bethlehem, why didn’t he push for better accommodations than a stable? As it turned out, the birth happened in the dark… assisted, it seems, only by his untrained carpenter hands? When the baby came, he wrapped Him in cloths that would have the scent (and no doubt some of the germs) of the unsanitary stable surroundings. The risk of infection was huge for both the mother and the baby and what was Joseph’s plan if birth and after-birth complications had arisen?
So why didn’t he push for better accommodations than a stable? Surely when one of the women sleeping in the inn heard of Mary’s situation, she would have taken pity on Mary, made her husband give up their room and have actually helped talk the scared young woman through the delivery. After all, it was Mary’s first birth and, being a virgin, she was neither physically nor emotionally prepared for the trauma of child birth on her own.
And I wonder why the first to visit Mary in her post-delivery exhaustion and pain (and joy) were shepherds – probably normally quiet, strong, calm men who were not unacquainted with the mystery and risks of birth, but they were men!! They were accustomed to delivering lambs – not babies. And that night they were understandably all hyped up by the dazzling visit of the angels and the amazing announcement of the birth of the Saviour-Messiah. Surely they would have been thinking more about talking about what they had just seen and heard on the hillside, than being quiet around the worn out, hemorrhaging mother and the newly born child. And what’s with Joseph? Surely this is a place for insisting on privacy, for goodness sake!!!
Well, what do we make of this? It seems that God is not interested in refinement, slickness and “goodness sake”, but chooses to throw His lot in with less than perfect people. He seems drawn to a humble person of character who is able to withstand the community pressure and embarrassment in Nazareth and obey Him. On the surface, one wonders why Joseph didn’t do the sensible thing, for goodness sake, and get Mary and the child back home to the extended family in Nazareth as soon as she was able to travel comfortably. Yet almost two years later, they’re still in Bethlehem. God has purposes and the decision to stay in Bethlehem plays into it. If they weren’t still there …“in Bethlehem in the land of Judah”… (where Herod’s chief priests said that the ancient prophecies said they would be) they would not have been there to receive the worshipping magi.
My friends, this is not a lovely little legend about two young Israeli peasants. This is the truth about God who so loves the world… the grace that He lives and gives … and the courageous trusting faith in Him that he sometimes calls for from those who follow Him. There wasn’t a nurturing mother present for the delivery and the birth theatre was definitely not sterile, but in Mary’s time of trial, God was there and it was enough.
The stable, the shepherds – the earthiness of the whole birth setting?? For those who have eyes to see, the message is in the picture. It’s the humble, redemptive grace that the Lord Jesus would live out throughout His earthly life and give out in His teaching, His miracles, His death, His resurrection and His promise to come back again. The earthiness of the whole birth setting is actually a glimpse into the heart of the One “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself” … well, what we see in front of us – no setting too disgusting for Him to enter and no person too common to have access to Him. This grace that He lives and gives is the gift that He asks those who follow Him to live and give. And, by the way, God did know what he was doing when He chose Joseph as His Son’s stepfather.
Bishop Keith Elford