From David Jeremiah’s book, Why the Nativity?
Bethlehem was a quiet and uneventful village, little more than a suburb of thriving, cosmopolitan Jerusalem. It wasn’t a travel destination as much as a small rest stop on the access road. It was just five miles outside of the big city, where the presence of God dwelt in the Temple. Better lodgings were a matter of merely another hour’s walk. Everyone was eager to see Jerusalem—too eager to linger here on the outskirts.
But now the empire was taking names, and all those Israelites who descended from King David were instructed to report to their hometown of Bethlehem. David’s time, the glory days of Israel, was not ten centuries in the past, and the late king’s extended family constituted a small nation in itself.
Why would the Roman Empire bother about the roll call of a conquered people? As you might guess, it was all about money. Caesar had a healthy interest in keeping the gold flowing Romeward. He wanted a careful and organized count, to make sure every eligible soul paid every cent due.
Therefore, on this wonderful day all roads led to Bethlehem. The little town was overrun with aunts and uncles and cousins many times removed. The scene was a cross between a great family reunion and a business convention. Even with the makeshift inns and hostels that surely sprang up overnight, there was no way Bethlehem could produce the beds it needed. Late-coming travelers were bound to be disappointed.
Envision those jammed avenues! The census was a boom time for innkeepers and food vendors, but also for pickpockets and criminals who could disappear into the crowds. Travelers and raucous music spilled from the doors of taverns, and women of ill repute waited in alleys. The pious and the wicked brushed shoulders. This, then, was the setting for the coming of our Lord.
But consider this: How much thicker would those crowds have been if the world had known what we know? The irony is that thousands of people bustled into town for the world’s most wonderful day, all unaware that they were at Ground Zero of a heavenly invasion.
They thought they had come for something as bland and uninspiring as tax registration. On the world’s first Christmas, they had come to give, not to receive. Hundreds of families must have walked by that stable. They must have passed the mother and her newborn child without a “good morning” or a curious glance. Surely they turned up their noses at the excited but unwashed shepherds who brushed by them on the way to the stable.
God’s greatest gift came wrapped in mystery, so that no one knew what was inside. The Son of God was born into this world; eternity infiltrated time and space. Why, then, was there no room in the inn? If God could mobilize a star from a distant galaxy to invite wise men from the East, couldn’t he make on humble room available?
We can’t doubt it for a second. This event was no momentary impulse. It was the decisive moment in human history. God had been lovingly planning it since before Creation, and he did not overlook any detail.
The Lord of Creation chose to enter this world quietly amid an unquiet scene. It was by heavenly design that he came into the world not in the relative comfort of the inn but in some farmer’s seedy shed. A homeless birth was part and parcel of a homeless life.
His mother, a Nazarene, just happened to be in Bethlehem when her child arrived—as Micah the prophet had foretold. Mary and Joseph took the Child to Egypt for safety, then to Nazareth—after the warning of an angel not to return to the vicinity of Bethlehem. We know that Jesus grew to manhood in Nazareth, but the Scriptures hurry past that period. When we see him at twelve, even then he is on the road to Jerusalem and the Temple. Never do we find him at home.
One day, when Jesus was an adult, a teacher declared that he would follow the Master anywhere. The Lord’s reply: “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). His words bear a touch of wistful sadness. The life of Jesus as a long road that began at the stable and lead to the cross—and finally, of course, to the empty tomb. The comforts of domestic life weren’t possible, for there as work to be done.
Accepting humanity’s rejection even in his birth, Jesus sent a message of stubborn, unbreakable love to the world. We would not afford him so much as a cramped closet; we had no room for him, no time to stop and worship, no interest in the peasant child. But that same Child came to find room for us. He would, one day, reserve accommodations for each of his own children at the Inn that awaits us on eternal shores.
Before leaving on that final journey, he told his disciples, “There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2). Homeless no more, he would throw open the doors of heaven, so that no one might be left in the cold.