We tend to get swept up in the romance of the Christmas story, the wise men, the overarching star and even the heart wrenching image of no room at the inn. It makes for artistic nativity scenes and great carols, but I suspect there was little romance or comfort anywhere in the story.
The inn keeper must have had an exhausting week. The town was swarming with people, they’d been arriving all week and he’d filled every spare room he could find and had to turn many away. As he dragged his bone-weary body to the door to answer yet another knock, he found Mary heavily pregnant and his heart must have gone out to her. How could he turn her away?
He offered the only thing left, the stable. The rammed earth floor and the noise and smell of animals must have been a minor consideration compared to having a place to rest after the 145km trek from Nazareth, over rocky roads and through the Judean mountains. It was a long walk for anyone. For Mary, nine months pregnant, it must have been extremely difficult.
There’s little doubt she walked the distance. It seems that donkeys were mainly used as beasts of burden or only ridden very short distances. By all accounts the old saying, stubborn as a mule, was indeed accurate and would have delayed them considerably. They must have arrived in Bethlehem foot sore and exhausted.
But that’s the staggering thing about the Incarnation, the reality not just of the Divine, but the sheer humanity in every part of the story. It all began with a very ordinary young girl from a very ordinary town, betrothed to a very ordinary young carpenter, planning a simple life together. God could have chosen from the upper echelons of Jerusalem’s society, but he did not. He chose ordinary families like yours and mine.
While Mary accepted the angel’s message with grace and faith, how did her parents react to the story? And Joseph’s parents, did they try to persuade him to leave her or were they supportive? How did these families and the community as a whole, cope with this seemingly impossible situation in which they found themselves? How would you have reacted had it been your son or daughter?
It’s this everydayness that’s revealed in the Christmas story that sets the stage for all that was to come. Jesus was born into a family that had its joys and sorrows, struggles and misunderstandings. It had to be if he was to be tempted in all points as we are; if he was to understand the reality that we all face every day. It’s as we contemplate how Mary got on with her mother-in-law, how she and Joseph coped with the frustration of finding Jesus had stayed behind in the temple, causing them a long trek back to Jerusalem, that we begin to appreciate the sheer magnitude of the Incarnation.
And then there were the shepherds. Could you find a more ordinary lifestyle than that of the shepherd? Rugged men, weathered by the elements, but fiercely committed to their flock. God could have appeared to the local Pharisees and Sadducees but he did not. He chose to announce the birth of the One who would become the Shepherd of his people to these lowly shepherds watching their flocks by night.
Can you imagine the fear and shock that gripped them as the heavens opened and a host of angels descended, bursting in on an otherwise ordinary autumn night. Can you imagine the conversations that ensued as they followed the star to the manger? Surely wonder, amazement, and a sense of the surreal engulfed them, a thousand questions throbbing through their minds. What did it all mean? Why us? And as they knelt in the dirt before the manger it must have seemed an unlikely and humble beginning for a King. And of course it was.
And the story continued as it began. From the carpenter’s workshop into the company of fishermen and tax collectors. To healing the leper, the blind and the lame. He walked the dusty streets amongst people just like you and me. Those who came to hear him had hung out the washing, prepared breakfast, or worked in the fields. Ordinary people from all walks of life.
He knew what it was to be utterly exhausted, to weep at the death of a friend, to be rejected, and to be betrayed. He died on a rough sawn cross in the company of criminals.
It’s a mystery and a miracle beyond the comprehension of our finite minds and yet we hold the truth in balance, his Divinity and his humanity, both perfectly revealed in the Christmas story.
Image 1: Jessica Lewis
Image 2: Ozge Taskiran