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On a Quiet Night in Bethlehem

God sent his Christmas gift special delivery as a babe in a manger. The Son of God was not a celebrity messiah, but the Savior who lived to reveal the ways of God to people just like you and me.

Although the young couple held residence in Nazareth in Galilee, every “man” was to return to his hometown to be counted. So, Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem. Otherwise, the story could have unfolded in Nazareth. (Can you imagine singing “O Little Town of Nazareth”?)<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
At that point in history, Bethlehem was a village settlement, located approximately 5 miles from Jerusalem. Bethlehem, which literally means “house of bread,” was near the place where Jacob buried Rachel, it was the home of Naomi and Ruth, and it was the site where Samuel anointed David. It later became known, prophetically, as “the City of David.”
After Joseph and Mary reached Bethlehem, time for the delivery of the baby arrived. There was no delivery room, no obstetrician, no mention of a midwife or nurse, and no excited family members waiting at a nursery window with video cameras. Apparently, the new baby was delivered privately, but certainly not painlessly, in an anonymous barn in Bethlehem. The family lodged there because there was no room in the inn. Luke tells us that Mary wrapped the child in cloth and laid him in a feeding trough, or a manger, for there was no cradle or crib.
Even in this small town, few seemed to notice the birth of the new baby. The most significant birth in history had just occurred, and it came to pass without fanfare. The birth of a child is a normal, everyday event, even in small towns. Why should the birth of this baby be any different?
According to Luke, the only visitors to the young couple’s quarters were a group of shepherds who had received a special delivery announcement from an angel. (Later, perhaps much later, the Magi would arrive from the East.) The angelic announcement may have been the most spectacular part of the story. With the busy activities surrounding the regional census and considering the routine phenomenon of childbirth, only a few people would have noticed the birth of the Christ-child.
Although the Luke passage suggests that almost no one noticed the quiet birth of Jesus, ultimately everyone will be confronted by his life, a life so full of humility and simplicity that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God” (Phil 2:10-11).
Jesus neither arrived as royalty nor lived as a celebrity. The world has an adequate supply of celebrity saints who are always trying to be noticed. As we celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas Day, let us remember that the birth of Jesus marks the beginning of the life of Jesus, a life that changed the world forever.
God sent his Christmas gift special delivery as a babe in a manger. The Son of God was not a celebrity messiah, but the Savior who lived to reveal the ways of God to people just like you and me.
Barry Howard is a religion columnist who resides in Corbin, Ky.