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What was the Birth of the King of Heaven Really Like?

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Joseph and Mary set out for the eighty-mile journey to Bethlehem from Nazareth in Galilee. We like to think that she rode on a donkey, but we have no evidence at all that she rode to Bethlehem. Regardless of the way they traveled, it would have been a dangerous and challenging task for the young couple. Think of what it would have been like for this young teenage girl to carry her baby eighty miles, knowing that she was approaching the baby's birth and that she would be away from her mother, her friends, and even a midwife. It seems likely that the couple was completely alone when Jesus was born. When Mary found out that there were no rooms to be had in Bethlehem, what would have been her thoughts toward God? Surely, she would have been puzzled that there was no provision for them. Why didn’t the Lord arrange for a warm room for His Son to be born into the world?

In the plan of God, nobody can say that God does not know what it is like to live in the world in such poor surroundings: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He has explored the depth of poverty and can come alongside any of us and feel what we feel. The One to be born of Mary was not like Caesar, a man making himself out to be a god, but rather, He was the One who created all things (John 1:3), the true God, putting on a robe of flesh and becoming a man! How wonderful!

We like to think that, as Mary went into labor on that holy night, she had a warm stable, but I’m sorry to disappoint you. The Bible does not say anything about a stable. The couple laid their child down in a phatné, translated in this passage as a manger or feeding trough. However, in Luke 13:15, this same Greek word is translated as an animal stall, "You hypocrites! Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall [phatné] and lead it out to give it water?” (Luke 13:15). With the number of people in Bethlehem that night, if there had been a comfortable cave, people would have been there before them. It is likely that Jesus was born in a courtyard where the animals were tied up and fed with not even a roof overhead. Because the innkeeper was very busy with more people than he could handle, they were forced to go to the barnyard.

I think it’s very likely that there were animal droppings and the stench of animal urine in the place. Of course, we don't like to think like that, but we miss the whole point if we don't. It was a wretched place to have a baby. Mary more than likely had to lay down and have Jesus on a cold stone floor with barely any straw under her, while Joseph had to try and make it as clean as possible. Imagine how it must have felt for Joseph. Any husband knows his wife is thinking and preparing for the birth of their baby months ahead of time. How could it be, Joseph must have wondered, that the God of heaven would plan for His Son to be born among the stench of animal urine and excrement, and shut out from the world of people?

I’m sure that Joseph felt shame at not being able to provide for his wife to bring Jesus into the world in relative comfort, rather than a stinking barnyard. As we have no record of a midwife being there with warm water and helping her through the birth, it is likely that Joseph and Mary had to trust that God knew what He was doing. Joseph had to grasp God’s Son with his cold hands while watching Christ coming into the world by the light of the star of Bethlehem overhead (Matthew 2:9). Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Taken from the study in the Book of Luke, study 3, The Birth and Teen Years of Jesus


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