The Advent season began this past Tuesday and for me, it’s always been such a reflective time of year. There are many parallels between the Advent season and the time we are in now: anxiously awaiting Christ’s second coming. This month, we will examine different aspects of that each week in this devotion series as we prepare our hearts to observe such a holy and humbling holiday, honoring King Jesus who was born to die so we might live.
The Nativity story happened a little bit differently than the Christmas carols tell. We normally picture Mary and Joseph arriving to Bethlehem, finding an inn, and being told all of the rooms are full. In actuality, the original Greek word used in Luke 2:7 was “kataluma” which translates to “guest room”. The word for “inn”, which Luke actually used in recounting the parable of the Good Samaritan, is “pandokheion”. In early translations to Arabic and Syrian, it is also translated to their word for “guest room”.
Joseph, being a descendant of David, would have been honored and treated with respect when he returned to Bethlehem. He’d probably have stayed with relatives or even welcomed into the home of strangers as was the hospitality custom among Jews as they honored God’s commands to the Israelites found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus to honor the stranger.
The Bible tells us they were already staying in Bethlehem when Mary went into labor (Luke 2:6). If they had been staying in the guest room in the home they were at up until the time came for her to give birth, it was likely a matter of needing more room for the birth. In these days, women from the village would come to assist in the birth process while men would wait in a separate area. Homes in this day would have had a part of the house where they brought their prized animals like oxen and donkeys at night to keep them safe from predators or thieves. This was actually part of the house, and there was normally a room behind this where it was not uncommon for part of the family to sleep near the animals. This part of the house was a cave-like structure and not a barn like we see commonly in pictures of the Nativity scene in the Western world. In Bethlehem today there is still a cave-like structure where scholars believe Jesus could have been born.
In researching this, so much of what I understood about the Christmas story was shaken up. In the Western world a lot of our mental images when we read the Bible are influenced by what we are used to and what we see all around us, and some of our understanding is a result of things being lost in translation, but these were different times and customs. And it gives so many additional layers of meaning to the Christmas story.
The shepherds found Jesus, the Savior, the King of kings, in a house not much different from their own. They found Emmanuel, God with us, genuinely with us. He was completely stripped of his glory. A regular peasant birth in a regular house in the room where they brought the animals inside at night.
The shepherds, the very first ones to share the first chapter in the Gospel story, told everyone in the house Mary and Joseph were staying at. “And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”
(Luke 2:17-20 ESV).
The shepherds received the birth announcement, not kings, not the wealthy. The angel said in Luke 2:10-12, “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (NIV). The language here is very specific: good news for ALL people, born unto YOU, a sign to them was his lowly state in that room behind the animals laying in a manger - all things that made Jesus human and accessible to us.
The striking dichotomy here is the accessibility of the Lord. God was inaccessible to us before Jesus’ birth. Jesus is the bridge between God and man as sin separates us from God. Once Jesus died on the cross in our place and rose again, defeating sin and death and hell, crowned with glory and sitting at the right hand of the Father, He is just as accessible to us now in that glorious state as He was to the shepherds in that lowly house in Bethlehem.
Now, we can enter the throne room, His dwelling place, a home that looks just like ours will one day, to worship Him, pray to Him, and spend time with Him. He was born unto us, made the Son of Man, so we could be called sons of God. He traded places with us in every way. In the fashion of true love between a bride and groom, what’s His was made ours and what was ours was made His. He was separated from God on the cross so we would never have to endure that separation again. Emmanuel, God with us, now and forevermore.