The Gospel of Luke 2:1-20, read last Sunday and “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” tell the traditional account of how Jesus came to be born. As kids, we learned by way of our hymns, Christmas storybooks and pageants that Mary and Joseph were compelled to travel to Bethlehem and took shelter in an animal stable. We learned Jesus was born during the night and Mary laid him in a manger, which is basically an open box or trough for horses or cattle to eat from. We imagine the stable must have been a smelly, dank and noisy place in the middle of the night. It was a most undignified start in life for the divine baby and yet “Angels of the Lord” visited nearby shepherds, proclaiming “tidings of great joy for all people” about Jesus and his birth.
There is much scholarly debate about the historical accuracy of Luke’s account. According to Kenneth E. Bailey, who wrote the book “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes”, if Joseph was indeed from the royal family of David, when the pregnant couple came into Bethlehem, known as the City of David, there is no way they would have been turned down for shelter. Joseph would have been well known and welcomed with open arms. But no matter, this moment preserved in religious time is a perfect metaphor for the good and bad we are all subject to in our lives.
Daily, we symbolically face a big old smelly trough and yet may find ourselves sudden