By Jeffery M. Leonard, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies, University of Samford
THE SAVIOR WHO COME TO US
Luke 2: 4-12,16-20
My mother-in-law was a kindergarten teacher for many years. One year as Christmas approached, she set aside time for her students to draw pictures related to the birth of Jesus.
Among the familiar scenes of barns and magi, shepherds and feeders, a young boy had drawn an airplane. Assuming the boy drew what he wanted rather than what he was told, she asked why he hadn’t drawn a Christmas drawing. The boy protested, “But I did it, Mrs. Renicks, it’s the flight to Egypt!” Upon closer inspection, my mother-in-law recognized figures on the plane that, in fact, appeared to be Mary, Joseph and Jesus.
“Who,” she asked, “is this guy here then? The boy quickly replied, “It’s Pontius, the pilot.” As the story of this little boy illustrates, the story of Jesus’ birth, while one of the most familiar in the Bible, is also one with details that are easy to overlook.
Jesus’ humble birth in Bethlehem fulfilled God’s promise to David. (4–7)
One of the most easily misunderstood elements of the Nativity story has to do with the “inn” where Mary and Joseph were turned away.
While the Greek language has a perfectly apt word for “inn” (pandokeion), that word is not found in this story.
The place from which Mary and Joseph were taken was a kataluma, the “upper room” of a house. Mary and Joseph were poor people; they were not likely to stay in a hotel but rather with relatives. Unfortunately, their relatives turned them away, telling them that no rooms were available.
Maybe it was true; a small room, perhaps already crowded with other guests, was no place for Marie to give birth. Of course, the chivalrous thing would have been for the men to leave so that the women could help Mary in the birthing process. Instead, the couple went down to the working part of the house where animals set aside for sacrifice were kept inside. This is where the manger, not made of wood in Israel but of stone, was found.
The angels proclaimed the good news of the Savior’s birth. (8–12)
Visitors who witness the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke are shepherds. Shepherding conjures up images of green pastures, rolling hills and stone walls dividing field from field.
The Shepherd in Israel could hardly be more different. Shepherds lived on the fringes of society, moving from place to place with their flocks to find water, scurrying over dry, rocky hills, always threatened by inclement weather, predators and little people. recommendable. The shepherds were poor and hard people. And yet, these were the first to receive the message of the birth of the Messiah. The good news first came to a motley band of shepherds living in the fields.
People rejoice when they recognize the truth of salvation. (16-20)
Luke tells us that Mary “kept all these things in her heart and meditated on them”. Marie seemed to already know by then that the events surrounding the birth of her son would reverberate throughout her life. It certainly would.
Early in his life, Jesus would be treated inhospitable in a kataluma; He would be treated the same at the end of his life in the most famous kataluma where the Last Supper was held.
Early in his life, Jesus was wrapped in strips of cloth and placed in a hollowed-out stone manger; at the end of his life, Jesus would again be wrapped in strips of cloth and placed in a hollowed stone tomb. Jesus was born alongside the sacrificial animals; Jesus would die one day as the ultimate sacrifice. And the message of this unlikely Savior would be embraced not by the rich and the powerful, but by the poor and the humble, by those like the shepherds who had nowhere to turn.