I remember growing up in the suburbs. We had many Christmas traditions. One of those was the careful, delicate task of setting up the manger scene. We had a beautiful set, with intricate pieces and a simple wooden barn. Mom would lay down a white, cotton base on our marble-top table, giving the impression of snow. The three kings were off to the side, not to be brought into the scene until later. It was beautiful and traditional, but traditions don’t always line up with Biblical truth.
First, I’m pretty sure there was no snow on the ground in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. On average, Bethlehem might get one snowy day in the winter months, and most theologians would agree that Jesus was likely born in the spring.
Second, the Bible tells of wise men. We don’t know how many. We don’t know them to be kings. Likely they were Magi, wise scholars, descendants of those who were led and trained by the prophet Daniel during the Babylonian captivity. Some believe they arrived two years after Jesus was born.
Third, it is unlikely Jesus was born in a barn. One of the elements of sustainable homesteading is using the topography as it is available. If there were a cave or a cleft in the side of a cliff on my homestead, I would use it as a barn. More than likely, Jesus was born in a barn/cave, or in the lower level of the home of a family member where the animals took refuge.
Living on a homestead gives me a bit more perspective on this scene than I had before. The privacy this would have offered would have been a great benefit to Mary and Joseph. “No room at the inn” meant no room in a crowded building with no indoor plumbing and zero privacy. A stable sounds great to me.
“Wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” would have been humble, but sweet. Have you ever laid down in a pile of fresh, clean hay? It makes me sleepy thinking about it. Smelly? Maybe. But likely a well-kept stable would not be as stinky as one might assume.
I can imagine Joseph putting some nosy animals in their pens, clearing an area for a cook fire, collecting water from a nearby pond and moving the manger away from the animals, cleverly repurposing it for a baby bed. Shelter, safety and supplies—all to encourage his young bride in the delivery of their son. Why do I say this? Because it’s what I would do.
In this simple, rugged campsite, the Savior of the world was born. Jesus left the glory of heaven to be born into this world, for the glory of God and for the salvation of His people.
A man and wife, she is with child, they have no place to stay.
But finally they find shelter with the cows and lambs and hay.
Then she gives birth to a boy, He cries into the night.
A simple birth, the world is saved, no gifts, no tree, no lights.
This is Christmas like it’s supposed to be!
To God be the glory and Merry Christmas!
Denny Dillman is benevolence pastor at Southeast’s Blankenbaker Campus.