Accept God’s gift to the world this Christmas 

Published 7:46 pm Thursday, December 22, 2022

And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped him in cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7 NASB)

Let’s be careful about how we picture the circumstances of Jesus’ birth.

Dating back to the 5th Century B.C., there were places in Greece where travelers in a strange land could find food and accommodations.

They were dangerous places, and they wouldn’t have gotten high marks for comfort or cleanliness or safety on TripAdvisor, but they existed.

And there’s some evidence that such establishments could be found around other parts of the Mediterranean — perhaps even in Israel — in later centuries.

But the word that’s translated in this verse as “inn” can also mean “guest chamber.” And the people of Jerusalem, at least, prided themselves at this time on having homes with extra rooms that could accommodate guests when the Jews would come to Jerusalem for feast days such as Passover.

So, it’s impossible for us to know whether Mary and Joseph had been expecting to stay in something we might think of as a shady hotel in Bethlehem or as guests in someone’s home there.

But what’s clear is that they found neither accommodation. They spent the night of Jesus’ birth — and maybe more — among the animals. And they laid the newborn Jesus not in a bed, but in a manger.

The King of kings and Lord of lords — the son of God and he who was with God in the beginning and through whom all things came into being — spent his first night as a human in a feeding trough for animals.

The first sounds he heard, other than the voices of Mary and Joseph, were the sounds of restless animals and, perhaps, drunkards in the streets.

The first things he smelled were grain and musk and animal dung.

The first things he felt were the swaddling cloths in which he was wrapped, the scratchy hay in which he was nestled, and the cold stone of the manger in which he lay.

The light of the world came into the darkness of Bethlehem as a stranger and an alien. And instead of a haven — instead of the sanctuary and comfort and peace of hospitality — he was received with indifference.

Quite frankly, that’s how he is received today by much of the world, even as we celebrate the anniversary of his birth.

For most of the world, there’s plenty of space in our homes for Santa and the elves and even the reindeer. But we keep Jesus out there in the stable with the animals — out of sight and out of mind.

Maybe we’ll open the door for the shepherd-carolers when they come by singing about the miracle they’ve witnessed.

Their songs are so pretty, and they remind us of stories we heard when we were kids. But baby it’s cold outside, so let’s close the door and get back to the eggnog.

And all the while, Jesus, the Savior of the world, is outside, waiting for us to let him in. He waits for us to recognize that Christmas is only truly meaningful if we accept the greatest gift ever given.

He waits for us to see that the real strangers and aliens in the world that he created are us, not him. He waits for us to accept the sanctuary and comfort and peace that he offered at the cross.

For a moment right now, imagine you are back at that inn or in that house in Bethlehem.

Everything is quiet inside. Perhaps everyone has gone to bed by this time of night. You can hear the lowing of cattle outside, maybe even the bleating of sheep on a distant hillside.

You can hear the anguish of a mother in labor, that woman who was turned away from the door sometime earlier.

And now, the cries of a newborn child, as He is cleaned and wrapped in strips of cloth.

Perhaps those cries are merely the normal response of a newborn with no other way to articulate the shock from the flood of sensory input after nine months in the womb.

I’m sure that was part of it. Jesus came to us as a human, after all. But he also came to us as God in the flesh.

If we could speak the language of an infant, I wonder if we might have heard Jesus crying out, “I am!” I wonder if we strangers and aliens might have heard him crying out, “come unto me, you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

Across nearly 2,000 years, he is still saying those things to us today. Do you hear him?

If you do, then I beg you not to close the door. Invite him in today. Accept the gift of forgiveness that he offered at that cross at Calvary. Turn to him in faith that he has done all that was necessary to purchase your salvation.

There is nowhere else you will find sanctuary. There is nowhere else you will find healing. There is nowhere else you will find comfort. There is nowhere else you will find true peace.

The Rev. Res Spears, a former editor for the Suffolk News-Herald, is pastor at Liberty Spring Christian Church. Email him at libertyspring.suffolk@gmail.com.