“Mary wrapped the baby in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7
The Advent-Christmas season is full of tradition, memories, and legend. It is also full, often over-full, bustling and bursting with the exhausting activity of keeping traditions, creating memories, bowing before Madison Avenue and photo bombing mythical figures.
As we move towards week two of Advent, please allow Luke to speak to us as a kind of holy ghost of Christmas past. Begging us for the moment to lay aside our Christmas lists, leave the half-trimmed tree, pause the holiday movie, dry our hands from washing the cookie pans, and follow him. And if we do, what we see will turn our image of Christmas upside down.
We will find ourselves standing in a small, ancient Palestinian village on an unusually starry night. The shapes and shadows of buildings will look strange. The human and animal noises sound strange. The smoky scents of fire, foods, burning oils, and manure smell strange. The utter absence of electric lighting is strange. We reach for our smartphone. It’s dead and will stay dead.
Luke will lead us beyond the village and down a dark, twisting rocky path to some ignored spot where we suddenly come upon a surprisingly, disturbing sight. Less than ten feet away, asleep on the ground, near a small fire that has burned down to embers, is a peasant girl. She has bits of straw in her long, messy, dark hair, and she is wrapped in dirty cloaks and a blanket. A split-second look tells us her night had been long and hard. And she is young.
Even more distressing, we see beside her a small, crude, dirty feeding trough in which lays a sleeping newborn, wrapped tightly in unsanitary, blood-smeared cloths.
We take a few tentative steps forward. We know this child, and we know this girl. But the scene is strange to us. It does not look anything like the manger scenes of our childhood. Our Advent traditions did not prepare us for the earthy realness of the real Christmas.
Mary is not serene. She’s bone weary. And no divine, heavenly glow emanates from the child. He is not even especially beautiful (Isaiah 53:2). In fact, there is nothing about this child to suggest the unfathomable mystery of who He is. We are unnerved to realize that, had we not already known, we would have not recognized Him at all.
This scene, the real Christmas, has nothing of the feeling of the Christmas we know. It has all the feel of undesired, desperate homelessness, more like a scene we’d find under a bridge than under our Christmas tree. And we are hit with the shock of a truth we’ve known all our lives: This young girl just gave birth to a baby. The Baby was born in a pasture!
Our first response is most likely pity and sadness. “This poor girl and her baby!”
We know the story, but when we see it as it really was, it seems so wrong. Our impulse is to do something to help them. We look incredulously at Luke. He calmly looks from the child to us and quietly says, “There was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)
No place? No place besides a field for the Maker of the world? You have to be kidding! We are talking the creator of the Universe here.
We impetuously blurt, “Surely we can find some room somewhere!” And then Luke says, “Can you really?”
Suddenly, we find ourselves back standing where Luke found us. There are our Christmas lists, the half-trimmed tree, the holiday movie paused, and pans in the sink. The familiar stress of the bustling and bursting schedule of Advent activities reawakens.
But seared in our minds is the pathetic picture of the holy, homeless mother and child. Bustling and bursting Bethlehem had no room for the advent of Jesus. And echoing in our ears are our own words, “Surely we can find some room somewhere!”
The real Christmas was nothing like the Christmas we’ve come to know, with its traditions, memories, tree laden gifts and red suited mythical figures. It was a desperate moment that occurred for a desperate reason. We need Jesus.
The Word became flesh (John 1:14) so that The Word (Jesus) could become sin for us condemned sinners, and die for us that we might be made righteous in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). He was born outside a village and He died outside a city. “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him” (John 1:10).
As we move through the Advent season, let’s keep fresh in our minds the only detail the Holy Spirit, who inspired Luke’s writing, provided us about the actual birth of Jesus. Mary had to lay Him in a manger because “there was no room for them in the inn.”
It is no less ironic that Jesus can be left outside of our busy Advent-Christmas activities than it was that he, the Son of David, lay in a manger in a field outside of the city of David.
As we move through Advent towards Christmas Day, let’s each get in touch with our desperate need for Jesus and then, “let every heart prepare Him room.”
I am praying for you. Please pray for me.