Each detail of Jesus’ birth account is important. From the fact that He comes as a baby to the gifts that are given to Him by the Wisemen, there is deep meaning in each aspect of His birth when we dig in and find it. We likely are very familiar with the Nativity story. We likely have seen many versions of it in various forms, from little ceramic figures on a mantle to living history presentations.
But have we ever stopped to ask the question of why? Why was Jesus born in a stable surrounded by animals? He could have born in a palace with all of the glory and riches of the world surrounding Him. Why was the Savior of the world born amongst the stink and filth of barn animals? Why were the only witnesses His family, the animals, and shepherds, the lowest people on the social ladder in Israel at the time?
At heart, the answer is really simple – to encourage even the least of us to come to Him for grace and mercy. It is God’s kindness that leads to repentance and even the place of Mary’s delivery expresses this amazing heart and call to us. A loving Savior chooses the perfect place from which to seek even the lowest of His sheep.
There is lots of well warranted pomp and circumstance surrounding the announcement of Jesus’s coming in our churches today. It was the Word from heaven the long-awaited Savior was coming. How could we not make a big deal out of that?
But back when it actually took place, it was significantly less publicized. It was also much less celebrated. The angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her that she is going to have a baby and He will be the Savior of the whole world. Awesome, right? Yes, it was certainly but that does not mean it was easy and complication free. Mary was a young girl likely in her teens and though she was engaged, she was not yet married. Young unmarried girls in that culture did not get their own reality shows. They were judged guilty of adultery, taken to the middle of the town square, placed in a pile of dung and stoned to death. Mary certainly knew this when Gabriel laid out the plan to her and yet her response is so simple and wonderful.
Despite Joseph being equally as faithful and accepting Mary as his wife, there was still a great cost involved in bearing Jesus. In a small close knot society like ancient Israel, the timeline of one’s conception and birth was not missed. People would have known that Jesus was conceived out of wedlock. There would have been shame involved that followed the couple wherever they went. Even more than 30 years later, when Jesus is talking with the religious leaders they subtly accuse Him of being illegitimate. This social stigma likely played a part in putting Mary’s labor and delivery suite in with the cows.
Joseph and Mary were required by Ceaser to return to his family’s hometown of Bethlehem to register for the census. There were many other people coming in similar circumstances needing lodging. Each person would seek out a relative, close or distant, to stay with while they were in town. Israel’s culture was based on hospitality, the giving, and receiving of it. Who one invited in their home was a reflection upon the honor of that home. Refusing hospitality was something done only when there was a serious problem present. It was an insult to one seeking it. Yet, when Joseph takes his new family back to his ancestral home, his people are either just too busy for there to be any room for Jesus or they are unwilling. There is no relative willing to bear the stigma associated with the child who will take them in.
People are so busy with the orders of the government to notice the importance of the arrival of the one bearing the Messiah. It is a far cry from Elizabeth who sang with humble delight when she saw Mary for the first time. They are too concerned with what other people may whisper about them to show simple compassion for the one bearing the Savior. They forget that God sais He desiress mercy not sacrifice. Much like now, life provides situations that seem so overwhelming and important for people that it is easy to dishonor the ones bearing Jesus.
Yet, Jesus uses these worldly setbacks to send an awesome message.
Jesus specifically describes Himself as lowly or meek and humble. He made the entire universe and yet is lowly upon arrival. In this humility, He invites the whole world to come to Him and makes it easier to accept Him. He makes Himself easily approachable. When the angels appear to the shepherds in the field announcing Jesus’ birth, the shepherds are filled with fear. Looking at the full glory of God is like a powerful waterfall, both unbelievably beautiful and insanely powerful. When we see even glimpses of it, sinful man is undone and filled with fear. Yet, the same shepherds who are terrified of angels run eagerly to see the baby in a stable whose power makes the angels seem miniscule. Shepherds were really far down the social totem pole in ancient Israel. They were considered worthless to many and were not welcome at the finer establishments. Yet, since He places Himself within even their reach, no matter where they were born or their social class they run to Him. Do we think the shepherds would have been as eager if Jesus was born in a palace?
When Joseph and Mary get bumped into the stable with the animals it is not a pretty sight. The cows and sheep that attend Jesus’ birth are just as smelly, loud and filled with excrement as the ones we have now. My 3 year old almost got baptized by a cow when we went to a local petting zoo and it was not at all pleasant. Mary’s delivery room would not have been close to sterile. There is probably not a lower place on earth for the baby to be born than in a tiny stable in a tiny town in a tiny country in the backwater of the Roman Empire. That is exactly the point.
Jesus could have been born in Herod’s palace or in the middle of the Roman Coliseum with all the ceremony that the Roman Empire could provide. Yet, our Savoir chose to be born with the animals and be laid where they drank because He loves us that much. It was so we could approach Him like the shepherds without fear. All because He wants to save us from what we have done. He calls us to come to Him now as Savior and removes all of the earthly impediments. No matter where we were born or who our parents are, Jesus can relate. He says come to me anyway.
The Lord’s plan is much greater than our understanding so there are probably 100 other reasons that Jesus was born in a stable. Those poor shepherds demonstrate, though, very clearly that the Lord did not make a mistake when He arrived as a crying little baby in that humble place. They came to Him, saw the Savior and their lives were changed. No matter where we are now, where we were born, or how lost we have gotten, He makes the same offer today. Just COME.