A suitable place?
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Luke 2:4-7 (NIV)
We’d be horrified if we heard that someone had put their newborn baby in an animal’s feeding trough. There might be a quick call to Social Services and they would be round to whisk the child away from these obviously unsuitable parents. But, as we know, that’s where Jesus was laid and it was indeed an appropriate place.
For here’s a thought about this dirty cradle: Jesus came to us and took on our human nature – and our minds are dirty places. Remember later in his ministry when confronted by the Pharisees over hand washing he will say, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” (Matthew 15:18-20 ESV).
Our hearts are not clean places and Jesus was to learn all about them. So maybe it was fitting that he was placed in an unclean cradle right at the start of his life with us.
And it did mean that the first witnesses to Jesus’ birth, chosen by God, would not be put off by what they encountered. The shepherds were going to see a king. They might not be the ones we would have chosen, but I think we’ve got used to the idea that God does things differently from us.
Shepherds were probably in need of a wash, and also ritually unclean. They were considered to be at the bottom of society. However the angel had assured them that they would find this promised King and Messiah somewhere familiar. Animals and mangers they knew about. Poor circumstances they knew about. They would be comfortable in those surroundings. And so the unclean were chosen to worship him first, on our behalf.
Our Father, we thank you that as the shepherds were brought to Jesus, so we can come to him, knowing that all our best efforts do not make us clean. But we can come to the One who will accept us, wash us, and make us clean. Amen.
Study by Hilary Buck
About the writer:
Hilary Buck is a minister and pastors the Lewes congregation of Grace Communion International.
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