Jesus was born into this world under humbling circumstances.
The actual birth of Jesus is recorded for us in the book of Luke Chapter 2. Take a minute to read the first 5 verses of chapter 2.
Luke 2:1-5 (NLT) says, “At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.”
Backstory: the Roman emperor decides that it’s time to count the people, the bigger your kingdom, the more respected you were and there's only one way to find out how big my kingdom is, count everyone. But, in order to do that, to keep it orderly, everyone had to return to the place they were born. In Joseph’s case, that’s Bethlehem.
Pick it up in Luke 2:6-7 where it says, “And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.”
Backstory: Here’s an often misunderstood part of the record of the birth of Jesus. We've all heard the phrase, “No room at the inn.” Yes, we’ve all heard that phrase but that’s not really the case. There was no inn. Bethlehem was a small village that likely didn’t have an inn. Inns were usually found in larger towns, much bigger communities than what we know Bethlehem was at that time.
So, if there was no inn, where do people who are coming through town stay? There are two important ideas that need to be understood to bring this passage to life. One is an understanding of what the architecture of the time was really like and two is an that the concept of hospitality was massive in this culture.
1. Hospitality: Joseph is returning to Bethlehem in accordance with the required census and he shows up only to discover that there’s no room, “at the inn”. Now, while there wasn’t an inn, there would have been a house, there would have been someone’s residence, someone’s space, someone’s pad for Joseph and Mary to crash in.
Now, that sounds weird to you and I because if a stranger showed up at our house needing a place to stay, we would likely respond wit an emphatic, "NO".
But in the Jewish culture turning someone away would have been a big no-no. If someone came and was in need, you took care of them. Even more so, if someone came and was from your town or from your village, you most certainly took care of them. Hospitality was huge, it’s just what people did.
2. Architecture: If we understand that Mary and Joseph didn’t stay at an inn and instead stayed at someone's home, we now begin to get a picture in our minds of a typical house right? We think front door, living room, kitchen, bathroom, a few bedrooms, maybe a basement, a garage, etc. That’s not at all what a house in Bethlehem looked like.
A house in Bethlehem look more like one medium sized room that everyone lived in. Houses in Bethlehem were not these elaborate structures. These were simple structures that they managed to fit lots of people into.
So, when we read that Mary and Joseph were turned away because there was no room, we don’t mean, “There wasn’t a room available” we mean, “There was no room available.” People were already packed into that space and squeezing two more people in, wasn’t going to happen.
So, the next best thing that a hospitality driven home-owner could offer was the area where the animals stayed. This lower area, 4-5 feet down from the human living quarters was this space where the animals were kept, likely attached to the rear of the main human living space.
What’s interesting about this idea as well is that we have this image in our minds of this super comfy, warmly lit, cozy little barn area that Jesus was born in. Probably not the case. If you study the culture you realize that the manger was probably made out of stone and built right into the ground. They poured the animal food into this and the animals would come and slop it all up so you can imagine that these were not sanitary or comfy little straw covered baby beds.
The reality is that Jesus was born in a really humble place. There was animal poop everywhere, there was a distinct smell that was not pleasant. It was probably dark and dingy. And yet, in the midst of this humble beginning comes the savior of the world.
Okay buddy, thanks for the history and social studies lesson, but what does any of this have to do with me? Allow me to suggest that there are a few similarities between Jesus' entrance into the world then and His entrance into our lives today.
Similarity #1: If we're honest, our lives are pretty crowded right? Not unlike the house that Mary and Joseph first tried to enter, our lives are packed full of stuff and we can sometimes find it difficult to make room for Jesus. It’s not that we’re trying to keep Jesus out it’s just that things are crowded in here and maybe there’s not as much room as there should be for Jesus.
Similarity #2: Our lives, if we’re honest can sometimes smell pretty bad. There are some things going on in our lives that aren’t the greatest. You might classify some of the things going on in your life as things that “spiritually stink”.
Lesson #1: No one expected Jesus to enter into the world in such a humble way. No one expected the Savior of the world to start where He started. In the same way, sometimes you and I also assume that there’s no way Jesus would want to start with us. “Oh, Jesus wants to come, but He wants people who have it together. He couldn't possibly come into the heart of someone as gross and messed up as I am.” Please don't miss this: even in the midst of the crowdedness, even in the midst the spiritually stinky stuff our lives, even in the midst of our grossness and messed up lives, Jesus will still show up.
It’s not a mistake that Jesus entered the world in the manner that He did. God was communicating a message to us even in how He brought Jesus to earth. His message was and still is: Make room for me in your life. Yes, even in your messed up, gross, imperfect, stinky life, if you make room for me, I will show up. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
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