As many times as we refer to the birth of Jesus, we usually gloss over the actual birth. And for good reason: Some details are better left unsaid. The Gospel writer Luke does the same thing. He writes:
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. (Luke 2:6–7)
So all Luke says about the actual arrival of Jesus is just three words: She gave birth. Even though Luke had a medical background, he leaves out a lot of details! He spends more time on what happened in the minutes and hours directly before and after. He tells us:
She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:7)
When it comes to the environment Jesus was born into, Luke mentions two things: He’s in a manger (an animal feeding trough), and they were not in the comfort of a room. Now, when you think about that manger scene, you might envision a Christmas card image of a couple perfectly at peace with quiet animals lying near the newborn baby. But think about what had to transpire for them to be in this position. Consider what the couple—and remember, a very young couple—must have thought that night in Bethlehem before this miraculous event transpired.
I can imagine Joseph asking about a room more than once. Wait, are you kidding me right now? She’s going into labor! Help us, please! Are there really no beds? Not one? Or Mary telling Joseph, We are out of time! Joseph, we have to get somewhere, now!
Can you imagine the stress? The adrenaline? From Joseph and Mary’s vantage point, the manger scene was not a well-thought-out plan. This is improvisation at its finest. There was no time to go anywhere else. This baby is coming. It’s a horrible combination that we can all relate to—a sense of urgency mixed with a lack of resources.
And lest we forget something very important: This was not a regular baby. This was a king about to be delivered. The birth of a future king would have typically had everything opposite of this frantic delivery. Instead of urgency, there would have been months of planning. Instead of being outdoors on the ground, a room would have been ready and waiting for this moment. There would have been servants and handmaids there to help, not a soon-to-be mom and her husband fending for themselves. There was no lavish setting, no luxurious cradle, and no royal fanfare. Instead, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in cloths, laying him in a manger.
But this was to be a king like no other. Luke is painting a picture for us—he’s setting the stage for what the life of Jesus would be like. It would be a life of humility and simplicity. It would be a life of sacrifice that ultimately would lead to another time he was wrapped in cloths—except in a tomb, not a manger.
So may we approach this season with the reminder that the first Christmas wasn’t something lavish. But that was the plan all along because this wasn’t just any king!
Heavenly Father, you had Jesus enter the world just like you wanted him to. It wasn’t by accident that he came without fanfare. You showed the world you were doing something new. Thank you for making a way for us to have a relationship with you, through your son who came to be Emmanuel, God with us. Amen.
As many times as we refer to the birth of Jesus, we usually gloss over the actual birth. And for good reason: Some details are better left unsaid. The Gospel writer Luke does the same thing.