The Mystery of the Stable
December 20, 2009
Everybody loves a good mystery and the Christmas story if full of mysteries, full of whys and hows and whos. If you’ve been with us over the past few weeks you know the theme we have chosen for this advent season is “The Mysteries of Christmas”
We started with the Virgin birth. One of the main stays of orthodox Christianity. The Apostle’s Creed reminds us when we recite “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.”
But there are folks, including those who profess to follow Jesus who either dispute the virgin birth or ignore it. But it is the very essence of who Jesus was, he was not the son of a man and a woman like we are, he was and is the son of God and as such he wasn’t born in the usual way but had a wonderful marvellous birth and conception where his Father stepped outside of the very rules that he put in place, where two cells become one and then become two again. And he started with just one cell. Not because the act of sex and reproduction is dirty or sinful but simply because it is ordinary and here we are talking about the conception of the Son of God and that isn’t ordinary. And besides God couldn’t be Jesus’ father if Joseph was Jesus’ father.
And that is why we are told by the prophet Isaiah 7:14 All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).
And then the next week we looked at the journey that Mary and Joseph made from Nazareth, a small town south west of the Sea of Galilee, to Bethlehem a village situated just outside of Jerusalem, a journey of 120 kms. Not a long journey today in comfortable cars on nice roads but for Joseph it would have been a trip that would have taken at least four days and more likely a week, on foot or by best case by donkey, while accompanying his wife who was about to give birth or as some versions of the Christmas story reminds us, was great with child. And we discovered that the answer to that Mystery could be discovered in the past and in the present.
The reason was connected to the past because the Old Testament contained prophecies saying that not only would the Messiah be born of the line of King David but that he would be born at the birthplace of King David. Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.
Why were all these prophecies put in place, as a check system so the people of Israel would know that the Messiah was indeed the Messiah. Born of a virgin, check, born in Bethlehem, check and so on.
But the answer was not only in the past but it could also be found in their present, we know the story how the Roman Government decreed that a census would be taken and everyone would return to their ancestral home, in Joseph’s case that was Bethlehem. So it wasn’t a matter that they wanted to make the trip they had to make the trip.
And we all know what happened next, we sing about we see it in pageants and Christmas Cards, we all know the story. (Born in a barn video)
This is what the Bible records Luke 2:6-7 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn.
It is interesting that this verse tells us that Mary gave birth to her first child, not her only child but her first child. Seldom do we stop and think about it but Jesus grew up with siblings; the scriptures tell us that he had brothers and sisters. But I digress, back to story.
This morning we are looking at: The Mystery of the Stable. I mean face it, if you were God, master of all things, creator of the universe and all that exists where would you want your child born? A beautiful home? A Palace? A nice hotel? How about a barn? No, probably not a barn. But that was it, the word of God doesn’t actually tell us that he was born in a barn, or even a stable but it does say that they laid him in a manger. Because most of us are city folks we aren’t familiar with the term manger, other than at Christmas time or when we spell manager wrong. As a matter of fact I grew up around horses and barns and I don’t think I ever used the term manger. But because of the Christmas story we all know what a manger is.
And again for those who do their bible study off of Christmas cards we picture this small lonely shed like structure all by itself, surrounded by singing angels and worshipful shepherds. But, hate to burst your bubble, but. . . The bible tells us that the shepherds left their fields and went into Bethlehem and we are told that 2000 years ago there was a structure in many communities called a khan and we are told that historically a khan was like a series of stalls opening off a common courtyard. And so as a part of the historic landscape of Bethlehem, there would be this communal area where travellers could house and care for their animals. Kind of a . . . parking garage.
But at the heart of this story we discover humanity divided into two groups, and those two groups exist today and each one of us belongs to one of those two groups. Don’t you love it when something can be reduced to the very basics? There are not a hundred choices from which we have to choose, not fifty or even twenty or ten. Just two.
And so the first group we become acquainted with Those who said “No” To Jesus. I suppose there is an honour of sorts to be the first person to reject Christ.
The innkeeper is really the first villain in the story. I mean what type of person would turn away a pregnant lady who was as the King James version puts it was “Great with Child”? That’s the polite way of saying that Mary was a big as a house.
We often think of the Inn with a big no vacancy sign flashing in the window, but it wasn’t that there wasn’t room in the inn, that isn’t what the scripture says. Luke 2:6-7 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn. What the Bible tells us is that there wasn’t room for them in the inn, and there is a difference
If we take that to it’s logical conclusion the assumption is that there wasn’t room for them but there was room for others.
Perhaps they innkeeper was keeping the room in case he received a better offer, maybe he knew that as more and more people arrived in Bethlehem for the census that any vacant rooms would become a commodity. You think how pricey even the most modest of rooms will be in Vancouver two months from now. And so perhaps the Innkeeper was just hedging his bets, it wasn’t a personal decision, just an economic one.
And it wasn’t that they were asking for the room for nothing. Again we often mix up tradition with actual facts. We have been conditioned from years of Christmas specials and Christmas cards to perceive the home that Christ was born into as one of poverty, and that probably wasn’t the case.
Joseph wasn’t poor, he was a carpenter a tradesman, he wouldn’t have been wealthy but I’m sure that he would have been considered middle class in that day and age. I’m sure that when Joseph gathered up Mary and headed for Bethlehem he probably came prepared they weren’t looking for charity. But perhaps greed on the innkeepers part meant that the room was priced well out of their reach.
And as unfortunate as they may have been at least it would have simply been a business decision in contrast to the other option.
Maybe he just didn’t want their type there, maybe he has something again people from Nazareth. “Sorry we don’t have room for you people.”
Were they “You peoples”? Apparently for some folks they were. Do you remember the story found in the first chapter of John’s gospel when the apostles were first gathering around Jesus? The story is found John 1:45-46 Philip went off to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
“Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from there?”
So perhaps the innkeeper just didn’t like folks from Nazareth. You might be wondering how he knew where they were from. There is a hint found a life time later when Jesus has been arrested, you might recall that Peter is warming himself outside of where Jesus was being questioned and he finds himself being accused of being one of Christ’s followers. A charge he denies, and then we read this Matthew 26:73 A little later some of the other bystanders came over to Peter and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.”
Peter was from the same area as Joseph and Mary and ultimately Jesus. Never actually think of Jesus having an accent do we? From the movies we assume that if Jesus had an accent it was either British or American. That was what we technically refer to in preaching as a tangent.
Or maybe they just didn’t want a lady who was obviously about to go into labour in one of their rooms, there was the entire plenty of hot water and clean sheets thing, the potential for a mess and not to mention all the screaming that might disturb other guests, transitional labour is nothing to laugh at.
We don’t know why there was no room for them in the inn but we do know is that the innkeeper would not be the last person to reject Christ. And today when Jesus is rejected it’s just like at the inn it’s not because there is no room in the person’s life instead there is no room for Christ in their life.
There’s room for all kinds of things, career, family, habits, ambition and maybe even religion but not for Jesus
And sometimes it’s because a person really doesn’t want to pay the cost, and sometimes they are hoping a better offer will come along and sometimes they are just playing a long shot that they can live like hell and still make it into heaven.
But there were also Those who said “Yes” To Jesus
When we read the Christmas story we often focus on the fact that there was no room in the inn, however there was room in the stable. And the stable did belong to somebody, and that somebody allowed Mary and Joseph to move in, perhaps just for the night, maybe longer. We don’t know how long they stayed in the stable. Long enough for Jesus to be born, long enough for the shepherds to visit, but apparently they moved out before the Magi go there because Matthew tells us in Matthew 2:9-11 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary.
You gotta figure that at some point a woman became involved. “You put her where?” “Well you march yourself right out there and invite them in while I get the spare room ready.”
A couple of things, the offer of the stable would have been commendable if that was all they had. Seriously, if whoever owned it said “I don’t have room anywhere else but there is the stable.” And they went out and prepared it and cleaned it up and made Mary and Joseph comfortable.
But it would have been a different kettle of fish if they had something better and all they offered was the stable. Would have been a completely different story.
Christ explains the same principle in a very familiar story found in the gospel of, you are familiar with the story, Jesus is standing at the back of the temple next to the offering box and a widow drops in two small coins and we pick up the story in Mark 12:43-44 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”
It’s the same in our lives the same gift can be given and for one person it is a sacrifice and for another it is just a bauble.
Regardless of why Jesus and his family ended up in the stable it did serve a couple of purposes. And again it is wise to remember Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
If you remember the story the first people invited to come to Jesus were the shepherds and we have to assume that they would have felt a lot more comfortable coming to a stable than coming into an inn or a private home.
“Mort, there are a bunch of shepherds at the door; they say they’re here to see the baby.” And not only that but how inconsiderate would it have been for God to have brought a bunch of shepherds into someone’s house with all of the mess and inconvenience that would have involved.
The shepherds were apparently an important part of the Christmas story, and God made it easy for them to take part.
I think the stable was instrumental in Jesus being accessible to all people. There is something about his humble birth that says He is there for all of us.
Often, not always but often, those born to a privileged life never understand those who are less fortunate than they are, even if their fortune was an accident of birth. We all remember Marie Antoinette’s comment when she was told that the peasants were upset because they had no bread, “If they have no bread than let them eat cake.” Actually if you go a little deeper you discover that when that comment was first reported Marie Antoinette was 10 years old and living in Austria, and while we don’t know for sure who said it historians feel that is was probably Maria Therese of Spain the wife of King Louise XIV of France. That was free, just another one of those educational services that Cornerstone provides.
And so Christ began his life not at the top of the economic and social ladder but at the bottom.
It is interesting to note and perhaps to ponder on that Christ began his life born in a stable that belonged to someone else and ended his life buried in a tomb that belonged to someone else. Not always one for inspirational poems and readings but I do love this one. (One solitary life)
Let’s end this morning with a quote from William Barclay who wrote “That there was no room in the inn was symbolic of what was to happen to Jesus. The only place where there was room for him was on a cross. He sought an entry to the over-crowded hearts of men; he could not find it; and still his search–and his rejection–go on.”
And so this Christmas the question is the same as it was on that first Christmas morning over 2000 years ago: Will you make room for Jesus?