They were poor.
You know that donkey we sing about?
“Little donkey, carry Marry…”
If she had one, it was probably borrowed.
They walked for a week.
Arriving in Bethlehem, there was no room.
Joseph’s home town.
Every single living male relative he had, with their families, and there was no room.
This wasn’t just a simple matter of “Sorry, we’re full up this week.”
No. This was rejection. This was humiliation. This was more along the lines of, “You married that little whore, so you’re not family anymore. You and that girl and that disgusting child can fend for yourselves. You’ve embarrassed us. We don’t want to know you.”
Eventually, someone took pity on them. Offered them his stable. Probably a good thing he didn’t tell his wife (I can just imagine her, finding out later, shrill voice, “You did WHAT? Let them have the stable?! Those two? You stupid man, you should have kicked them out onto the street like your brother did! What will people think of us, giving refuge to THEM?”
A stable. That’s not so bad, right? Soft, fragrant hay. Lowing animals. Warm and cosy, bathed in yellow light.
Have you ever been IN a stable? They smell off animals. Damp, hungy animals. And animal poo. Lots of animal poo. They are rarely beautiful. And rarely peaceful.
Besides, these were poor folk. This stable was no Ritz Carlton for Animals. It was probably a small cave etched into the side of a hill. Or maybe even just an overhanging ledge. And it probably wasn’t ‘just out the back’ so you could still use the house facilities. Disgraced, Mary and Joseph’s only offer of accommodation was a smelly, damp, dirty hovel on the outskirts of town, which they had to share with the goats. Were they relieved or angry? Or did they weep with both?
We don’t know. All we know is that night, into shame and squalor a baby was born. A baby who will rule the world. A baby who is Emannuel. God with us. He did not come as a Prince. For then we could say that he doesn’t really understand how it feels to be human, to be rejected, shamed, disowned. No, he came as what appeared to be an unwanted and unexpected pregnancy. He came to poverty, to despair, to shame.
He did not come to set Israel free from Rome. Instead, he came to set us free from ourselves. From the bonds of sin that entangle us. From selfishness and from hatred. He came to set us free from grief and loneliness, to connect us with the One who made us. He came. We shunned him. Because there was no fan fare we thought that this can’t possibly be it. But it was.
He was wrapped in strips of rags. His bed was an animal feeding trough. There were no pretty baby clothes or matching embroidered sheets and blanket. He had no soft toy. He didn’t even have his own bed. His grandparents didn’t come and give him soft gooey baby-induced cuddles. His only visitors were some shepherds and some strange people from a far away land (who probably didn’t speak a language his family could understand anyway!). They at least brought gifts fit for a king. Gold, frankincense, myrrh. But what was he to do with those? A baby born into poverty, who probably knew hunger and lack. It’s likely those beautiful kingly gifts were sold to save his life, to buy food while Mary, Joseph and Jesus hid in Egypt for several years so he wasn’t slaughtered by King Herrod.
This is the King of the World. The most glorious being one could ever meet. The one who speaks, and it is.
For [the Servant of God] grew up before Him like a tender plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He has no form or comeliness [royal, kingly pomp], that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected and forsaken by men, a Man of sorrows and pains, and acquainted with grief and sickness; and like One from Whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we did not appreciate His worth or have any esteem for Him. Surely He has borne our griefs (sicknesses, weaknesses, and distresses) and carried our sorrows and pains [of punishment], yet we [ignorantly] considered Him stricken, smitten, and afflicted by God [as if with leprosy]. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our guilt and iniquities; the chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being for us was upon Him, and with the stripes [that wounded] Him we are healed and made whole. Isaiah 53
Emmanuel. God with us.
God with all of our petty, disgraceful, dirty humanity. God who loves us regardless. God who LOVES US ENOUGH to leave the beauty, riches and adoration that is rightfully his as King of All, to be born into a pitiful smelly stable to a peasant girl and her betrothed, to be rejected by us, the very ones he came to help.
Yet he still came.
And they called his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
Emmanuel. God with us.
I pray that this Christmas, God is with you.