I have always loved the traditional image of the holy family by the manger in a stable.
My parents have a beautiful glass ornament of that scene that I have coveted since I was a little girl. It’s a beautiful portrayal of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. Leave it to Bible study and seminary to smash this image in my mind forever, because for a multitude of reasons it’s probably not an accurate portrayal. Many scholars believe the holy family would not have been alone in a stable out back.
Archaeological digs have found that a typical First Century peasant home was usually just one main room with four windowless walls. This main room was divided into two areas with no wall between the two areas. One area, the larger of the two, was the main living area for the family. This was the place where the family ate and drank, entertained visitors and slept at night. The second area in the home was about four feet lower than the main living area. You would walk down some steps to get to it. And this smaller, lower area was a place where the family kept their livestock and animals. On the ledge between this lower area for livestock and the upper main living area for people, there were holes carved into the floor where feed would be placed for the animals. These were the mangers.
Where did visiting relatives and friends stay in a house like this? Frequently such homes had a guest room built on the roof of the house. This is where the guests stayed. But Luke tells us that at the time Jesus was born there was no room in these guest quarters. So in all likelihood Jesus was born in the main living area where Joseph and Mary were staying with the rest of the family. Then, when Mary gave birth to Jesus, she wrapped her son in strips of cloth and laid him in one of the mangers in the family living area.
This is why I say to you that Jesus Christ was born not out in a barn but in the heart of a home. God sent His son into a real world to be a source of light and hope for people.
What does this mean for us today? First of all we are dealing with a personal God. When God chose to take on the body of a little baby and be born upon this earth, God chose not to be born outside in a barn but right in the middle of a home — a family. Jesus chose to be born not outside away from people but inside with people like you and me. The point is that Jesus wants to be right in the middle of your life as a personal God. He wants you to have a close and intimate relationship with Him. He wants your heart to be His home.
How will you welcome Jesus into your heart and home this year?
Loving God, how amazing is it that you come right into the middle of our world, right into the middle of my life. Help me remember the birth of Jesus that I may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and worship of the wise men. Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come into every home with every gift and good desires with every greeting. Amen.