As I was studying the birth of Christ today, it occurred to me how much we do dress up what little of the story there is.
The Gospel of John and Mark have no birth story at all.
The Gospel of Matthew simply says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem – no mention of a manger.
And Luke’s account (Luke 2:1-7) is fairly to the point as well:
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Another translation I have suggests “guestroom” in place of “inn” in that last sentence.
We are sort of left to have to read between the lines to fill in a picture of what it was like that day in Bethlehem. The census required that families return to their ancestral home to be accurately counted. This would be the same if I, for whatever reason, had to take my family back to Anadarko, OK. My hometown is small, and most young people leave it to find jobs in cities or other parts of the country. If we all came back at the same time, the hotels, motels, and guestrooms would be packed. The city would have a festive, exciting vibe to it – joyous reunions, gossip, political conversation, lots of food, and family drama.
In to this picture come Mary and Joseph, both likely dreading what will be said when news gets out that Mary is pregnant – and who knows who the father is? You can imagine the furtive glances, the suspicion, the way Mary was given the cold shoulder, and so on. Maybe there was room in the family home, but Mary and Joseph were pushed out into the garage, dirty, uncomfortable, and away from the respectable members of the family.
And there Christ enters into the world.
When I put it together this way, the birth of Christ becomes a little less removed and becomes more like some of the things I have experienced. Life, even for Joseph and Mary, was not serene. Choirs of angels did trumpet the coming of the Christ child, but they did not sing softly in the background or bring feathery pillows for the Holy Family to rest upon. Their lives were just as hurried, tense, and often overwhelming as my own. They probably wondered why it had to be like this but then welcomed the new blessing they cradled in their arms.
This is what it means that Christ is Emmanuel, God With Us – God truly came into the life we all know and experience.
Blessings to you as we journey to meet, once again, Emmanuel in our lives.