We’ve been spending the past 20 days playing with our Little People Nativity Scene playset that my mom gave us a few years ago. Some days the people are all in their rightful place: Jesus in the center of the manger scene, Mary on one side, Joseph on the other. The angel is often placed on top, firmly fit into a peg that then allows it to whimsically spin back and forth across the top of the nativity scene much to the enjoyment of the child. But then there are some days that a few fire trucks and dinosaurs are lined up with the donkeys and the sheep. One of the wise men can often be found driving the fire truck with another wise man sorrowfully squished into the trunk. Some days baby Jesus is atop the manger scene spinning back and forth like a wild banshee. Some days it’s an oversized camel spinning into oblivion. Most days I can’t find Mary. She’s usually understandably hiding from all of us under a couch. And almost 100% of the time when I ask Preston who was Jesus’ earthly daddy he says, “Moses.” We’re learning. And it’s really fun and adorable.
Regardless of where the pieces are strewn around my house, we can always turn to Scripture to remind us of the key players and the story that changed us. Which is where we often turn back to with the kids. I want them to know the story. But there’s another side story that I think packs a punch if you stop to think about it. Because at first glance, we can ALL agree the story is about a cute baby Jesus entering earth. Which is life-changing. The Christmas story is ultimately about Christ coming to earth in His flesh.
But there’s some periphery stuff about the story that I thought might encourage you. Regardless where you are today, if you believe, or if you don’t. Maybe if you feel like doors are shutting or you aren’t getting what you want. Maybe if you’ve wondered, “is this all there is?! Is there really it?” Maybe the periphery will encourage you.
The periphery story starts with Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem to register for the census per command of Caesar Augustus. Everyone had to go to his own town to register. On their way there, Mary started going into labor. Once labor starts you can’t stop it. And so they asked an innkeeper if they could stay for the night. But because everyone was traveling, the Inn was full. They were forced to make do. They found a barn full of animals, and she gave birth. She placed her son in a manger and likely breathed a huge sigh of relief that it all worked out, even though it wasn’t ideal. Or expected.
But shoot, through every sequence of events leading up to Christ’s birth, if I were Mary, I woulda been like, THIS IS NOT HAPPENING.
Side Story 1:
If I were Mary, when I heard about the census I would have rolled my eyes. I would have looked at Joseph and said, “We can’t go anywhere! I’m almost due!” I would have huffed and puffed all the way on the donkey, and likely wished we had a horse and wagon where I could lay down instead, and figured all the rich people were lounging in a wagon. (Did they have wagons yet? I don’t know.)
Have you ever had a major obstacle come about right before something important was about to happen? How did you handle it?
Side Story 2:
If I were Mary, when we arrived at the Inn and they said, “there are no rooms available”, I would have started crying. Just right there to the Innkeeper’s face. I would have attempted negotiations for some storage room space behind the kitchen. Anywhere, just somewhere inside.
Have you ever been confronted with inconvenient news? How did you respond? Did you think God wasn’t blessing you? Had He forgotten you?
Side Story 3:
If I were Mary and I started realizing that I was about to give birth to my firstborn in a barn, I would have asked God, “why?” Why would such a sad start have to be our start? (I mean today hospital rooms for deliveries are described as Hotels, and Suites, and all kinds of amazing Cable coverage. I’ve had babies in the past just to watch Food Network all day.)
Have you ever been given what only seemed to be some terrible cards? Did you turn bitter or remain hopeful?
The Greater Story in Spite of it All
But what happened anyways? Jesus was born. In a barn. The first placed he laid his head was in a manger – a trough from which animals ate. Wasn’t he supposed to be the King of Kings? The one who was coming to save us? Why such a lowly start? I mean, Kings aren’t born in barns. Why was he born there? Such a loss.
Well, a better questions is: where was he really born?
Jesus wasn’t just born in a barn. His birthplace fulfilled a prophecy found in Micah 4:8. Wikipedia defines his birthplace, called the Migdal Eder, as this:
“Scholars interpret Micah 4:8 as a prophecy indicating that the Messiah would be revealed from the “tower of the flock” (Migdal Eder) which is connected with the town of Bethlehem, southeast of Jerusalem.
And you, O tower of the flock, hill of daughter Zion, to you it shall come, the former dominion shall come, the sovereignty of daughter Jerusalem. (Micah 4:8 NRSV)
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labour has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace (Micah 5:2-5 NRSV)
Mishnaic sources indicate that animals . . . in the fields within a certain distance from Migdal Eder were subject to being used as sacrificial animals in rituals of the Jerusalem temple.”
Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem to fulfill a prophecy in Micah. It wasn’t an accident!! The census… the full inn … the barn in Bethlehem … it was all pushing Mary to the exact spot where Jesus was to be born. And didn’t Jesus become the ultimate sacrificial lamb? He was born where the sacrificial lambs were raised. Therefore, he was birthed in the same place as the perfect lambs made ready for sacrifice.
Christ’s birth location was no accident. In fact, it was just as it was to be.
Could it be that all the inconvenient events, door closings, and “unacceptable” accommodations were simply leading Mary to the greater story?
Could it be that it’s all leading you to yours, too? My prayer is that for all of us, as we see prayers not being answered, trials getting in our way, that we may be hopeful that it is leading us to our greater story.
Let’s vow to press on anyways. And look to God for his guidance rather than turn our backs on Him if we sense he’s forgotten us.
May the presence of Jesus in the manger be a symbol of hope for you today.