“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”
We hear over and over again during the Christmas season how the idyllic manger scene that we often portray is far from the reality of Christ’s birth. So, in trying to correctly envision that night, I thought back to Baylor’s “Christmas on Fifth” celebration this year. It was the first time we’d taken the kids and they were excited about the petting zoo. However, after waiting 45 minutes to see Santa, it was dark, and as we entered the pen where the animals were roaming, I found myself constantly worried about where I was stepping and what I might be stepping in. The smell that enveloped the area gave me ample reason to worry that there might be more than mud underfoot. I worried that it would get in the tread of my shoes, and on the cuffs of my jeans. I couldn’t get out of that pen fast enough. And I imagined, much to my discomfort, the idea of having to sit down there, lay down there, labor there, and deliver a baby there. The image changed slightly when our pastor shared last Sunday that Joseph and Mary were actually staying on the ground floor in the home of extended family, where livestock were kept overnight for safety and warmth. Nonetheless, if a couple of hours in a pen on Fountain Mall was enough to produce the stench of the petting zoo that night in Waco, surely the setting of Jesus’s birth was still plenty humble.
But imagine my surprise upon learning that the unpleasant smell and the manure were almost entirely beside the point. That the point was, in fact, for Jesus to be born in the town of Bethlehem, a town known for its industry of raising and providing sacrificial lambs for the temple and for families—750,000 lambs a year. That, just as those lambs were swaddled and laid in a manger to prevent the blemishes that a flailing baby lamb might inflict upon himself, Jesus was wrapped in cloths and laid in a manger. That, just as shepherds would regularly inspect those lambs for defects, shepherds were summoned from the fields that night to inspect the very last sacrificial lamb who would ever be required for the forgiveness of sins. That He would be born in a home where, in just a few short hours, aunts and uncles and cousins would be bustling about, doting on, and falling instantly in love with this newborn baby boy. And finally, that this love would allow Him to be declared a worthy sacrifice.
This Christmas, may we reflect on that little town on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and on the manger and swaddling clothes, and on the shepherds and the baby Jesus. May our own love be rekindled for the Lamb of God, sent to take away the sins of the world. And may we proclaim with the heavenly host, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14)!