While they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. Mary gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
Luke 2:6-7 NLT
When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, they found that it was heaving with people who had come for the census which the Romans had demanded. In the Jewish law, censuses were forbidden and so the holding of a census was a further reason for the people to resent the occupying power. However, Joseph was a law-abiding man and if required to go to his family’s ancestral home he was willing to comply. The fact that there were no lodgings available when they finally arrived in Bethlehem must have been a horrible surprise for the young couple, and especially for Mary. We are in fact told nothing about the location of Jesus’ birth, but it is most probable that it happened in a cave. All we know is that he was placed in an animal feeding trough, a manger, when he was born. That makes it clear that he was in a place where the animals were kept and it is more likely than not that that would have been in a cave.
The fact that there was no room for Jesus at his birth serves as an agonising summary of the lack of welcome that Jesus received throughout his life. In his gospel John sums up the situation by declaring “He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognise him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.” (John 1.10-11) I find these two of the most painful verses in the Bible. In sending Jesus into the world God was showing his incredible love for humankind, but the majority of people simply didn’t want to know. And they still don’t. But we can rejoice with John that “to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1.12)
How can you welcome Jesus this Christmas?
Lord God, we thank you for the miracle of Christmas. Thank you for sending Jesus into our confused and broken world. Amen
Photo – St George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem