“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.” (Luke 2:6-7 NIV)
The Christmas story has been romanticised into a peaceful, magical experience where a perfect mother laid her well behaved baby in a manger and was surrounded by visitors from the rich kings to the lowly shepherds, and angelic messengers. Those who have experienced the joys of parenting know of the challenges of giving birth and how the school nativity rightly glazes over these factors. However, Jesus was not born in a stable or even an inn. The guest room is a reference to the chamber in the house where people slept, as the animals were kept downstairs in the same house. Joseph had come to his hometown. Joseph’s family would not have allowed a relative and his pregnant wife to be wandering the streets looking for a room. Bethlehem was a town not on any of the major trade routes so the chances of an Inn being there would be none existent.
The story is loaded with prophetic signposts to the reason why the baby came. The wrapping of his body in cloth and being put in the dirt foreshadows the tomb and grave clothes that we find in the Easter story.
The Shepherds, symbolic of the Old Testament leaders of God’s people. Abraham and his family were shepherds, Moses became a shepherd, and David was a shepherd. In the Ancient Near East, Kings were referred to as the shepherd of the people. Jesus was the good shepherd he came to bring hope to people who had lost their way and needed help in finding their real purpose in life. (Matthew 9:36)
Angels we often imagine to be humans with wings. The Cherubim stationed at the entrance of the Garden of Eden were beings of immense power who wielded fire swords. The Seraphim in the book of Isaiah had three pairs of wings, and their name means one who spits fiery poison, this sounds more like a dragon than a man. In the books of Ezekiel and Revelation, the description of heavenly beings is that of a combination of magnificent animals from lions, eagles, bears. The key here is that these are beings are not human. They do not have our frailties, yet the Son of God came in our likeness and not theirs.
The Magi (the wise) and their gifts. These visitors were not kings, and we are not told how many of them there was. The writer is more concerned that these foreign dignitaries recognised the importance of the birth when their own leaders did not. Matthew is also concerned with what was given. Gold signifies wealth and affluence, all that man can buy, a fitting gift to a King. The child was born was from a line of forgotten Kings, God had foretold from this line there would be a king who would reign for eternity. Frankincense is an anointing oil used to initiate a holy person into service. This gift symbolised the impartation of God’s Spirit that was resident in this Godman and started in the womb from his conception and witnessed and attested to at his baptism. Jesus moved in the power of God’s Spirit the dead were raised, the blind saw, and the captive set free by his words. Myrrh was used to anoint the body after death. This was the most poignant gift, the purpose for his coming into our world was to bridge the gap between life and death. He died and rose again from the dead so that we might have life eternal through following after him.
Christmas gives us reason to celebrate, it is not about the feasting and drinking it is about a baby who was born. That baby became a man who has given us the gift of life through his Holy Spirit.