The Humble Birth of the King of kings: reflections on the nativity of Christ (part 3)

24 December 2020

Let’s talk about three kings – not the ones you might be thinking. From the ivory palace of Caesar Augustus to the halted kingdom of David to the straw-filled manger throne in Bethlehem. Spoiler Alert – The humble baby in the manger is the King of kings.


While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. Then she gave birth to her firstborn son, and she wrapped him tightly in cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:6-7 CSB)

How do you think about the Christmas story? If you’re like most people in our country, it’s probably one third Bible, one third Hallmark, and one third Charlie Brown. We picture Joseph walking beside Mary, as she’s hunched over in pain riding a donkey. They go house to house only to be met with slammed doors. They finally reach the inn. The “no vacancy” sign is up, but the inn keeper out of the kindness of his heart lends them his barn. As vivid as that story is, it’s probably not the way it happened.

Most modern translations don’t translate v.7 with the word “inn.” That’s for good reason. The common Greek word for “inn” is “pandacheion” (lit. all receive). That’s not the word used here. The word is “katalyma” which is always translated elsewhere as room. It’s the word Jesus used  for the “upper room” that He and His disciples ate the last supper (see Luke 22: 11). Archeologists have also discovered that common homes in Bethlehem would be one large room, with a little guest room. The stable would be outside the house, but at night, the animals would be brought inside the house. This would protect them from predators or thieves; it would also help keep everyone warm. All this to say, that the picture painted for us is not one of rejection, but reception. Mary and Joseph arrive at a relative’s home. The guest room is taken because of the census. And so they make arrangements for them in the living room, among the warmth and smell of the animals. 

When the time comes to give birth, “she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him tightly in cloth and laid Him in a manger.” And there, in humble obscurity, God in human flesh is born.

The mystery of the incarnation! That the One who framed the world would be framed within the world. That the One who made us, would allow Himself to be held by us. That the Word of God would take on flesh and become a babbling, cooing baby. Take time to contemplate this, and be amazed: diapers, sleepless nights, thumb-sucking, nursing, teething, tummy-time, learning to crawl, learning to walk. …GOD!?

A skeptic might respond that this is crazy. And any honest Christian should respond that it certainly is! Yet, it begs a question, “Why should God meet our expectations of how we should think things should happen?” In a society that celebrates pomp and circumstance (e.g. royal babies, and celebrities), the story itself that attests to its truthfulness. People don’t make this kind of thing up! A Messiah being born like this!? God taking on human flesh!? If we wrote that story it wouldn’t unfold this way. But the nativity story cries out to us, “Not so with God!” God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength (1 Cor. 1:25).

Athanasius wrote, “Although being himself powerful and the creator of the universe, he prepared for himself in the Virgin the body as a temple, and made it his own, as an instrument, making himself known and dwelling in it.” He made Himself known. This is the good news from God – a baby in a manger! And what we see here is the humblest scene we could ever imagine. Not only did He take on our flesh, but He became like a servant. A servant who would become obedient unto death, even to death on a cross (Phil.2:5-8).

The one who was wrapped in cloths laid in a manger, would one day be wrapped in cloths laid in a tomb. Key word: vulnerability. The only state of being more vulnerable than a newborn child is to be in a state of death. And Jesus, the Son of God, knew both. That’s the kind of King He is.

Two things this text refuses to let us conclude – that God is distant and disinterested, OR that He’s angry and irritable. Neither of those gods do what we see here. A distant deity doesn’t take on human flesh; and an irritable God certainly doesn’t became a vulnerable baby. And yet, the reality of this story beckons us, come to the manger and stand amazed at the tender, gentle love of God. This is how much God loves sinners! This is a picture of the lengths He was willing to take!

For all those who think they are insignificant, unable to be redeemed, like they’ve run out of chances, or they are too shameful for God to seek them out – the obscurity of Bethlehem shows that there is no person or place beyond the reach of the gospel. It is truly good news for all people (Luke 2:10).

Do you have room in your heart for Jesus? Or do you think you have to be someone great to receive Him? We see in this text that Jesus was received. They didn’t have much to give, but that’s okay. Because it’s not about our ability to give, but God’s ability to give – His one and only Son.

Let that gospel reality color the way you view 2020, and especially this Christmas season. “If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare his own Son but offered him up for us al. How will he not also with him grant us everything?” (Rom.8:32).

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