“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 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 2:4–7 (NIV)
Do you remember your first family vacation? I do! Ours was a trip to North Carolina for a wedding. It was also the first time we had taken my son, who was about 17 months old at the time, on an airplane. As you can expect, sitcom-style insanity ensued. To say it was an imperfect weekend would be an understatement. But it was also a lot of fun and a beautiful time with amazing memories we still look back on and remember fondly.
I imagine this is what it was like for Mary and Joseph . . . extremely crazy and hectic, long and arduous, and full of surprises, but ultimately one of the most amazing memories of their lives. Picture it . . . Mary was very pregnant at this point (not the ideal time to travel), but because of the census decreed by the Roman Emperor, they had to load up a donkey and head for Bethlehem, the place where their ancestors came from—a town they had never lived in, where they had a few distant relatives still living there, but likely not anyone they were in close contact with. Now, they had to hope one of their relatives had enough room for them to stay.
But, by the time Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem (which assuredly took longer because she was pregnant), none of their relatives had room for them. All of their rooms were full, but probably because they were family and because Mary was pregnant, one relative let them stay in the lower room where the animals were kept at night. Imagine something like a basement or garage where you keep your dog or cat . . . or your cows and donkeys!
Isn’t that insane? But it gets even crazier. Do you know where Jesus, the Savior and perfect gift of God to mankind, slept His first night on Earth? He wasn’t laid in a 415-pound pure gold crib (an economical 16.4-million-dollar crib) designed by Ximo Talamantes or a state-of-the-art Intellicot (valued at over $2,000). He didn’t even have a run-of-the-mill Fisher Price or Ikea crib.
Instead, the Savior was placed in a humble manger, a feeding trough out of which livestock would eat. Now, often this manger is depicted in a traditional nativity scene as a wooden bassinet, but the reality is that it was more like a big rectangular stone farm sink sitting on a pair of cinder blocks!
This is where the Creator of the universe and the Savior of the world slept . . . and not just for a night. Remember, Mary and Joseph stayed in Bethlehem until Jesus was around two years old, so who knows how long He slept in the place where the cows ate out of. So, from the humblest of women (Luke 1:26–55), to the humblest of towns, in the humblest of places (basically a barn), the Lord was born and was laid to rest each night in the humblest of “cribs.”
I think if you had asked Mary beforehand to describe the perfect first family trip, she likely wouldn’t have described it this way. But God did. To God, this was the perfect way for Jesus to make His arrival. Why? Because it so perfectly conveys the picture of what He was doing. In the lowliest of places from the lowliest of people, in the midst of the chaos, God stepped out of heaven and brought heaven to us. In that moment, all the imperfections ceased to matter because our perfect Jesus had arrived. All the noise and chaos was replaced by the magnificent song of angels who filled the night sky with the praise, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased" (Luke 2:14 NASB). Darkness gave way as a miraculous star shone bright and brilliant above Jesus—the brightest and most brilliant Light of the World!
So, this Christmas season, let’s shift our focus from the bells and whistles and the holiday hustle. Chances are no matter how hard you try, it won’t be perfect. We may not get the right gifts, the ham may end up a little dry, the tree may be crooked, the family trip may be chaotic, but we can rest and rejoice in the fact that our King has come, our salvation has been secured, and our joy is in Jesus, the reason for the season!