How much thought have you put into Jesus being born in a manger? If you are like me probably not much, but I think we should. The Gospel of Luke says Mary, “gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” A poor understanding of this story of Jesus’ birth promotes the idea that Christ was somehow ostracised from society, rejected by his people and forced into a lowly stable. With a better understanding however maybe we should be seeing the newborn Jesus as arriving in a busy, loving and welcoming family home – and not distanced from humanity.
I am not trying to ruin what you have been raised to think about the Christmas story and the manger but rather I would like to offer you new insight. Our possible misunderstanding of the story is contingent on how we interpret the Greek word, “kataluma”, which has historically been taken to mean inn. In the Bible this word is used elsewhere to mean “private upper room” where Jesus and his disciples ate the Last Supper in the Gospel of Mark. Meanwhile, Luke uses another word – “pandocheion”, meaning a gathering place for travellers – to refer to an inn. Also Joseph was returning to his family origin for the census and it would be unthinkable that he would not have had relatives that would have received him. Taking into account the fact that most people’s homes at the time would have had one room for family, and either a second room for guests and animals, or a space on the roof, it
seems much more likely that there would have been no space in the guest room. The family guest room is already full, probably with other relatives who arrived earlier. So Joseph and Mary may have stayed with family, in the main room of the house, and there Mary may have given birth.
What about the manger? The most natural place to lay the baby would have been in the straw-filled depressions at the lower end of the house where the animals are fed. Something that looked similar to the picture in this blog post.
Does this understanding take away from the romanticized version you have of Jesus being born in a manger? If so, what new understanding could this provide to us? Well maybe this part of the story is a reminder that Jesus Christ was born in a time of chaos, arriving in a busy time. Although he may have been welcomed by family, they too did not have proper space for him. This Christmas maybe part of returning the Wonder of Christmas is seeing how the manger is a reminder that Christ, whom we claim to love, is looking for a space in our homes. Have you prepared that space? Join us this Sunday for Sunday School at 9:30 AM and worship at 10:30 AM, as we discuss how Jesus Christ entering our lives is like a silent invasion and how the manger is a wonderful reminder of that!
In God’s grip,
Pastor Chuck Church