Christmas Words of Grace: Thursday

Christmas Words of Grace: Thursday

Originally posted on December 23, 2010 


“She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

It is Luke who tells us the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus and how the son of David (Jesus) came to be born in the city of David (Bethlehem). He lays his emphasis on two particulars—a decree of Augustus, the famous emperor of Rome, and the behavior of an anonymous innkeeper in Bethlehem. The emperor and the innkeeper were both—though quite differently and quite unknowingly—instruments of God’s providential purpose.

On the one hand, Augustus, who reigned over the empire from 30 BC to AD 14, issued an edict that a census be taken of the whole population and that people must go to their own town in order to register. The census was doubtless with a view to taxation. It would have been unusual and unnecessary for Joseph to be accompanied by Mary, but probably he had resolved not to leave her behind in her advanced pregnancy.

On the other hand, no doubt relieved that their long journey was at last over, Joseph and Mary would have been devastated that the Bethlehem innkeeper could find no place for them to stay, except in what seems to have been a stable. When Mary’s baby was born, she laid him in a manger, that is, in a feeding trough for animals. It was symbolic of the rejection that Jesus was later to experience.

Thus the emperor and the innkeeper both played their part in God’s plan without knowing it. The emperor’s edict brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem in fulfillment of prophecy (Mic. 5:2; Matt. 2:5-6). And the innkeeper, by reason of overcrowding in the town, ensured that the Savior of the world was born appropriately not in a palace but in a stable, not in splendor but in obscurity and poverty.

For further reading: Luke 2:1-7

John Stott, Through the Bible, Through the Year: Daily Reflections from Genesis to Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006), 141-148.