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A Christmas Q&A with Champ Thornton

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Was Jesus Born in a Stable?

Was Jesus born in a stable? You might think that because Luke 2:7 says baby Jesus was laid in a manger. People throughout church history have proposed reasons why he might have been born in a barn-like shed, an open-air barnyard, a cave, or even in a shepherd’s tower.

But none of these suggestions quite accounts for all the facts—like trying to put a queen-sized sheet on a king-sized bed. First, there’s the fact of their social context. No one in that Jewish culture would’ve turned away even an unexpected guest.[1] The second fact is a key word: “because there was no room for them in the inn.” The word “inn” actually meant “guest room.”[2] There was no space for them in a guest room. Joseph and Mary didn’t get turned away from The Bethlehem Hotel at the last minute.

Did He Arrive in the Nick of Time?

In fact, they hadn’t arrived at the last minute at all. Luke says, “While they were there, the days were fulfilled for her to give birth” (2:6). “While they were there”—not: “Just as they skidded into town, they barely made it in time!”

According to Luke, Joseph and Mary arrived in plenty of time, but the guest room was occupied by others. So, where does that leave us? More to the point, where does that leave Joseph and Mary?

New Testament scholar and expert in Middle Eastern culture, Kenneth Bailey, offers a solution. First century houses were often split-levels, with an upper living area and attached guest room and a lower area to lodge animals at night.[3] And in this scenario, mangers were often hollowed-out niches carved into the living room floor at the edge closest to the lower level a few feet below.[4]

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Are We Welcome to See Him?

Regardless of whether Joseph and Mary were in a cleaned-up lower area normally reserved for animals or in the main living area using a manger conveniently carved into the living room floor—Jesus was born into a humble setting. The Lord shared in our commonness, so we might share one Lord in common. 

He came a Savior for all levels of society. Had he come to the rich, then most of us would despair of access. If he had come to the elite, then the majority might question his invitation. But he came in lowliness—a signal that the lowly, the humble, the repentant would be welcome to come and adore him. 

And that is indeed “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).

Want to learn more about the real story of Christmas?

You can discover more about “the star of Bethlehem” in The Radical Book for Kids (page 141).


[1] For example, see Luke 10. It appears that, although Mary and Martha were not expecting guests, the visitors were welcomed into their home.

[2] See also Luke 22:11.

[3] Read 1 Samuel 28:24 and Luke 13:15 for examples of this housing arrangement. Even today, residents in rural areas of Switzerland for example, often house animals on the lower level of their homes—providing security for livestock and some additional warmth to the house.

[4] Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008, pp. 25–37.


 
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