Christmas is here. Most of us stop at least for a moment during this busy season and contemplate the Nativity. Sometimes the Nativity becomes something a little “magical” or “romantic” to us. We gaze at the ornate wise men and the manly shepherds, the donkey and the stable, the manger and the straw, but many of us don’t pause to consider, all of these images we have – are probably wrong.
By now most of us have learned that the wise men weren’t there. They probably didn’t arrive for another year – possibly two. We know this because Herod killed all of the children in Bethlehem two years old and younger “according to the time which he had determined from the magi” (Matthew 2:16). As in, the wise men were never kneeling beside a baby – they were giving their gifts to a toddler. In fact, we don’t even know how many wise men there were! Scripture says “men” so we know there was more than one, but there could have been 50 for all we know. We have the “three” wise men visual in our minds because they gave three gifts to Jesus. But I like the wise men, so I for one will keep them with the Nativity. No harm in that really. But the rest of the visuals? Let’s explore them shall we?
That donkey. Let’s look at him for a moment. We always see Mary riding a donkey in the movies. We read about it. We picture it: Mary, nine months pregnant, riding a donkey to Bethlehem.
But wait. A donkey is not in the Biblical text. Scripture doesn’t say how Mary and Joseph got to Bethlehem. And here is the kicker – we know they were poor. After Jesus was born, they had to present Him at the temple. The sacrifice Mary and Joseph brought was the offering of the poor – a pair of turtledoves (or pigeons). If they could afford it, the law required a lamb and a dove (or pigeon), but Joseph and Mary didn’t have the means. The couldn’t afford to buy a lamb.
They brought the offering of the poor.
What does that mean? They couldn’t afford a lamb, much less a donkey. Owning a donkey was like owning a Hummer. NOT in Mary and Joseph’s budget.
Mary probably walked.
Yikes. Mary, nine months pregnant, probably walked to Bethlehem.
Now let’s talk about those shepherds. We visualize the shepherds surrounding Jesus as scruffy, middle-aged men.
But were they?
Something came to my attention the other day. I listened to a tape by Ray Vanderlaan. In his talk he said that in the Middle Eastern culture, adults do not shepherd the sheep. The KIDS tend the sheep. And here is what is really interesting. Most of the time, those young shepherds are girls because they don’t get an education. Older boys are in school; it is girls and really young boys who tend the sheep.
Remember David? He was the YOUNGEST of his brothers – and he was tending the sheep. Some scholars believe that David was only eight years old when Samuel anointed him King of Israel, but he didn’t take the throne of Judah until he was 30 years old! Why? Because he was only a child! He had a lot of growing up to do.
So, the angels that appeared to the shepherds may have really appeared to CHILDREN.
Why? Because kids would trust the angels and not stand there arguing about whether or not to leave! They would drop what they were doing with the sheep and RUN to see the true Lamb of God. So, the next time you see a Nativity with a bunch of old shepherds around the manger . . .
. . . picture them a lot younger. And some with some REALLY long hair.
And what about that stable? Did Mary and Joseph actually have Jesus in a barn?
Not so much.
Normally, the overflow area where Middle Easterners kept mangers and extra animals was a CAVE.
You got me. Jesus may have been born in a CAVE. The Bible doesn’t specify WHERE the manger was, only that there was no room in the Inn, and a manger was present.
Can you imagine having your baby in a dark, damp cave? Was Mary scared? You bet she was. She was probably no older than 16. And what about Joseph? I bet this was going over and over in his head: “An angel of the Lord did come to me, right? But we are having this baby in a dirty place. Did we do something wrong? The angel DID say this was the Son of God, right?”
And the manger?
A Middle Eastern manger wasn’t a food bin filled with hay – it was a water trough. Jesus’ manger then, was probably damp and cold.
The Son of God, born to a poor couple who probably walked to Bethlehem, was laid in a DAMP manger, and greeting by a bunch of kids.
But here is what we need to dwell on. God doesn’t do anything without a reason. Let’s pause to consider the symbolism:
Bethlehem means “House of Bread.”
Jesus, the “bread of life” was born in the House of Bread. “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” John 6:35
Jesus, the “living water” was laid in a water trough. “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14
Jesus, our Rock, our cornerstone, was born surrounded by rock. “Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” 1 Peter 2:6
Jesus our Redeemer, was greeted by children, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from COMING TO ME; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matt 19:14
Mary and Joseph probably didn’t put all of this together. They were living their life, trying to survive day by day. They weren’t thinking about caves, and water troughs, and Houses of Bread. They were just obeying God. Did they question? Did they doubt? You bet they did. But they persevered. They remained. They abided. They trusted.
Are you unsure about your walk? Maybe the things happening in your life are for others. Do you think Mary may have doubted when she laid Jesus in a water bin? But think about the message for us. Jesus is our living water. Do you think it was hard for Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem? But Jesus had to be born in the “House of Bread.”
Things happening in our life, though hard, are God’s way of weaving together a great tapestry of Fabulousness.
Don’t think Jesus understands about being in a weird, hard situation? – Think again.
Don’t think Jesus has ever been cold? – Think again.
Don’t think Jesus knows what it means to be betrayed (Luke 22:48), or denied (Luke 22:61), or not believed by even family (John 7:5)? Think again. Think again. Think again.
The next time you see a Nativity – think again – and understand that God did that all for us to have a visual of WHO JESUS IS TO US.
The message? We need to become like children, and run – not walk – to our rock, our water, and our bread. He is a Savior that knows hard times, and He is a Savior that welcomes us into His kingdom.
And He wants us to think again.
Become like children this holiday season. Gaze into the fabulous mystery of our rock, our living water, and our bread of life.